Expanding Mental Health Services for Adolescents of Color and LGBTQ+ Youth

Expanding Mental Health Services for Adolescents of Color and LGBTQ+ Youth

What's the Challenge?

COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on the mental health and well-being of young people across the country. During the pandemic, more youth between the ages of 11 and 17 are searching for help and compared to other age groups, are more likely to present moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression. Among all youth ages 11 – 17 screened for depression in 2020, 91% scored for moderate to severe depression. The rates were the same for youth of color at 91% and higher for LGBTQ+ youth at 95%.

What’s more, rates of suicidal ideation are highest among LGBTQ+ youth. In 2020, 62% of LGBTQ+ youth ages 11 – 17 reported suicidal ideation more than half the days or nearly every day as compared to 51% of all youth of those ages. Rates among youth of color were similar: 53% reported thoughts of suicide or self-harm more than half or nearly every day, compared to 49% of White youth (“Mental Health and COVID-19.” Mental Health America 2021).

What are we doing about it?

Created in response to the pandemic, The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health is providing support for direct-service organizations that serve youth who are of color and/or LGBTQ+. Additionally, and in pursuit of sustained and systemic change in this field, The Fund is championing innovative approaches that reduce barriers to care and offer potential to scale to regional and national levels. Over approximately six weeks, The Upswing Fund received more than 480 requests for funding from organizations across 41 states.

Acknowledging the immense need of frontline organizations, we launched an expedited review process to mobilize support for organizations as quickly as possible. Awarding decisions were guided by a set of holistic grantmaking principles that prioritized excellence among organizations meeting our target population where they are and demonstrating cultural competence and inclusive approaches to serving youth.

What does The Upswing Fund support?

As of March 2021, The Upswing Fund is proud to be in partnership with 88 organizations across 33 states plus Washington, D.C. These organizations have demonstrated incredible resilience in the face of a global pandemic and commitment to improved youth mental healthcare and well-being.

Some examples of ways these organizations are deploying support from The Upswing Fund include:

1. Hiring new staff to increase capacity to serve more youth, better. To meet spikes in demand and reduce waitlists for care, many organizations have sought out new resourcing and/or been able to retain existing staff to provide reliable and uninterrupted services to youth. Others aim to expand no-cost services, and some are building internal capacity through the professional development of their teams to ensure they are providing best-in-class, culturally competent care.

2. Creating new avenues to meet and serve youth where they are through professionally-facilitated and safe online communities and virtual support groups such as chat rooms, peer discussion groups, and peer-led mental health workshops. Also, through enhanced and embedded virtual therapy services in partnership with local schools. One organization created a mobile counseling center where staff can respond and take crisis response calls in the convenience of a renovated mini-bus.

3. Providing wrap-around supports that acknowledge that well-being is more than the sum of its parts. To support transitions to (and through) new modalities of online learning, organizations have mobilized quickly through efforts like the distribution of care and activity kits that provide much needed material resources.

Taken together, these organizations—along with many other qualified applicants—are offering urgently needed services and solutions towards both the short- and long-term systemic transformation of adolescent mental healthcare and care systems.

What's Next?

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed gaps in our systems of care that will continue to persist without strategic and intentional investments in this field. While mental illness will never be non-existent, we believe systems should ensure equitable access to tailored care for anyone who needs it.

The goal of The Upswing Fund is to serve as a catalyst to create a more resilient and connected adolescent mental health care system that is well funded, accessible, and scalable to meet the needs of all youth in the United States.

Get Involved

The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health is designed as a collaborative fund for donors who share a common goal of improving the mental health and well-being of adolescents. The Upswing Fund aggregates philanthropic support to achieve greater impact and leverages donor giving to scale proven interventions, accelerate innovation, and advance critical efforts to create policy change to expand the availability of mental health support.

The Upswing Fund is seeded by Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company created by Melinda French Gates to advance social progress in the United States. Further support is provided by The Klarman Family Foundation. The Fund is powered by Panorama, a platform for social change dedicated to solving global problems through audacious thinking and bold action.

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