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3 Reasons to Invest Philanthropically in Mental Health

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Currently, more than 300 million are experiencing the condition globally, with the World Bank considering it “the greatest thief of productive economic life”.

Yet, sound mental health is the foundation of everything that’s needed to thrive. As global citizens seeking to improve the well-being of others through philanthropy, we cannot tackle issues like poverty, education, and healthcare without prioritizing mental health first.

In this article, we suggest three reasons for philanthropists to focus on mental health right now. Nowhere is this issue more underprioritized than in Africa. The continent accounts for the lowest mental health expenditure and up to 85% of individuals have no access to effective treatment.

For this reason, the examples we draw on focus on Africa, where StrongMinds works, but the principles are universal:


1. The stakes are high if we fail to act.

Often, the first onset of depression occurs in adolescence. This has enormous consequences for sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly half the population is under 15. If left untreated, depression can recur over a lifetime, with long-term implications for the individual’s quality of life, economic productivity, physical health, and ability to participate in community life. 

StrongMinds has found this to be true in Africa, where women are affected at twice the rate of men. As a consequence, they work less, experience more physical illness, and detach themselves from social situations. These adverse outcomes then extend to her children, who are more likely to be undernourished, miss school, or have poor physical and mental health themselves.

If continually ignored, mental health conditions alone will cost the global economy US$ 6 trillion by 2030. At the business level, this means individuals with depression are more likely to experience absenteeism and poor job performance. This leads to reduced productivity and higher turnover worldwide. The evidence is clear: Without addressing mental health, depression will continue to hamper economic development and progress in all areas of life.

To read more on how mental health is linked to all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (see WHO World Mental Health Report, table 4.3).

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2. Many cost-effective, scalable solutions exist.

It is a common misconception that mental health interventions must be costly to implement. However, innovative and affordable treatment options do exist.

By training lay community health workers to deliver group interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT-G), StrongMinds is successfully bringing high-quality, low-cost depression treatment to tens of thousands of individuals in sub-Saharan Africa. It currently costs us just $105 to treat one woman with depression, and we continue to work toward reducing this cost each year.

IPT-G is well-studied in low- and middle-income countries and is recommended by the WHO as a first-line depression intervention in resource-poor settings. The approach is simple yet efficient, with high rates of success. Here’s how it works:

  • Clients are screened before, during, and after therapy using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to continually measure the presence and severity of depression.
  • Over 8-12 group sessions, counsellors guide structured discussions to help participants identify the underlying triggers of depression and examine how their current relationships may be linked.
  • From there, group members discuss solutions to their problems, learn coping mechanisms, and identify support systems they can lean on after therapy ends.
  • Participants feel understood, empowered and less alone as a result.

When a woman is no longer depressed, she and her family prosper. StrongMinds estimates that for every woman treated for depression through our IPT-G model, up to four members of her family benefit.

Likewise, 16% of treated women report an increase in work attendance, 13% report an increase in family food security, and 30% say their children have fewer school absences – more on StrongMinds impact here.


3. Investing in mental healthcare stretches philanthropic dollars. 

Findings from a recent Happier Lives Institute (HLI) study further support the idea of cost-effectiveness by determining the gift of mental health is an economical one. This data comes after individuals surveyed in low-income countries reported 9x more subjective well-being when given assistance in the form of psychotherapy treatment compared to direct cash.

For many living with a mental health condition, quality of life is compromised. This leaves individuals vulnerable to suffering and the inability to carry out day-to-day responsibilities, among many other setbacks. The very nature of depression, for example, prevents those affected from taking actions that would otherwise improve their overall well-being.

But, StrongMinds has learned devoting assets to ensure good mental health allows individuals and families to recover with benefits that endure. This is seen most notably through sustained recovery times and positive spillover effects. For instance, more than 80% of those we treat are depression-free after therapy and remain so six months post-treatment.

Furthermore, our therapy supplies women with the knowledge to recognize the symptoms of depression and deploy skills gained to prevent future depressive episodes.

This challenges existing thinking in philanthropy pertaining to how donors can do the most good and identifies StrongMinds as a high-impact funding opportunity worthy of investment.

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Final thoughts

All of this is possible because people choose to give back in a way that maximizes their impact. When we work together to end the depression epidemic in Africa, everyone wins. We hope this inspires you to consider funding depression treatment throughout your philanthropic journey.

We suggest finding out about local and global mental health causes you can support with your philanthropy. And if you’d like to find out about supporting StrongMinds, you can find out more here.


About the author

Holly Elliott is the Media & Engagement Manager at StrongMinds. She has over 10 years’ experience in media relations and communications. Holly previously worked in public relations at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) and most recently managed the marketing and communications strategy for six different museums in Savannah, GA. She has a BA from Flagler College in Communications.

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