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Thriving Together: Philanthropy’s Vital Role in Fostering Mental Health in Southeast Michigan

May 30th, 2024 Back to Browse Stories

Sarah Wedepohl
Vice President, Program

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness and understanding of mental health issues.

At the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, we recognize the profound impact that mental health has on individuals, families, and communities. While mental health is a deeply personal issue, philanthropy is a vital partner to the programs, people, organizations, and environments that support mental health services throughout our region.

Understanding the Need and Philanthropy’s Response

Research consistently shows that mental health disorders are common, affecting a significant portion of the population. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), over one in five U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2021, which is approximately 22.8% of all adults. Similarly, the Mayo Clinic states that about 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. has a mental illness in any given year. In southeast Michigan, the statistics are no different. Factors such as economic hardship, lack of access to health care, systemic inequities, and traumatic experiences can exacerbate mental health challenges for many residents.

Philanthropy plays a crucial role in ensuring that funding is impactful by closely monitoring the public sector. The Community Foundation actively observes public policy and adjusts our grantmaking strategies to address gaps and seize opportunities. For example, the recent bipartisan passage of Senate Bill 27 mandates insurance coverage for mental health and substance use disorder treatments at the same level as physical health services.

By leveraging our relationships with civic leaders, nonprofits, and healthcare providers, we can assess the bill’s impact on the community and leverage funding resources to meet the needs and opportunities that arise due to the bill’s passing. This legislation has the potential to expand the state’s workforce and increase access to culturally relevant treatment, addressing a significant need identified by residents navigating a complex behavioral health system.

Working alongside our philanthropy peers, our sector has provided strategic investments and partnerships, and funded initiatives that provide support, education, and resources to those in need. At the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, we have a responsibility to support quality, equitable mental health access. We have partnered with hundreds of organizations over the years by listening, bolstering, and uplifting their expert work to increase access to mental health care in southeast Michigan.

A few recent examples include:

  • Equitable Access to Care: It is well known that there are great disparities in access to quality mental health care. Whether that includes racial and ethnic disparities or transportation barriers, there are millions of residents across our region who have limited access to care. Philanthropy can support initiatives that increase access to affordable and culturally competent care, such as the Black Led Mental Health Fund, which includes a group of funders dedicated to supporting organizations that are increasing access to quality mental health care for Detroiters.
  • Destigmatizing Mental Health: Stigma remains a significant barrier to seeking help for mental health concerns. Until we can talk as openly about our mental health as we do our physical health, we have a lot of work to do. Philanthropic efforts can support public awareness campaigns, educational programs, and community forums aimed at reducing stigma and promoting understanding of mental health issues. Last year, our Youth Advisory Committee made $55,000 in grants to support such efforts.
  • Early Intervention and Prevention: Investing in early intervention and prevention programs can help identify and address mental health concerns before they escalate. The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is home to PEDALS (Positive Emotional Development and Learning Skills) a relationship-focused program that provides evidence-based coaching to hundreds of preschool, infant, and toddler teachers across our region. The impact of PEDALS has been demonstrated through a rigorous evaluation and more importantly, with the ripple effect of supporting our youngest residents as they grow.
  • Supporting Vulnerable Populations: Philanthropy can target resources to organizations like the Ruth Ellis Center to support vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by mental health challenges, including low-income individuals, communities of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, veterans, and survivors of trauma.

Impactful Grantmaking

At the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, we recognize that there are organizations across our region whose staff are showing up every day, working countless hours, and dealing with incredible staffing shortages to serve their communities. Through our grantmaking in partnership with our funder and donor community, we have a commitment to create a supportive environment where all individuals can thrive mentally and emotionally.

As we close out Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s reaffirm this commitment to building a region where mental wellness is equitable, prioritized and supported. Philanthropy has a vital role to play in this endeavor, and together, we can make meaningful strides toward creating a healthier, more resilient southeast Michigan.

Visit to see how you can support the people and programs working to promote the health and well-being of our region.

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