How One Florida Community Foundation Is Addressing Florida's Mental Health Care Deficits

A counselor works with a client at the Betty Griffin Center, a domestic abuse nonprofit agency. Credit: Betty Griffin Center/The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida

A counselor works with a client at the Betty Griffin Center, a domestic abuse nonprofit agency. Credit: Betty Griffin Center/The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida

Florida ranks dead last in the U.S. for providing funding for mental health care in America.

But thanks to a group of women philanthropists at the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, nonprofits that support mental health care are getting a huge boost.

The foundation’s Women’s Giving Alliance (WGA), created a $2 million pooled fund in 2012 to support mental-health care. Between 2012 and 2016, its grantmaking served nearly 9,000 north Florida women through 23 grants awarded to 17 nonprofits.

As a result of the grant program, these 17 nonprofits have been able to:

  • Add at least 35 mental health professionals to their staff

  • Train 750 mental health professionals

  • Develop advanced gender-based mental health support for women veterans and other girls and young women affected by the juvenile justice system

  • Add five new programs or protocols that will extend beyond the state’s northeast region

“We believe it was the first time a women’s collective giving circle had concentrated all their grant dollars on one focus area,” says Susan Datz Edelman, the foundation’s VP of Strategic Communications.

The need was great.

Not only does Florida rank low in mental health support (it is one of only 14 states that do not accept Medicaid expansion dollars through the Affordable Care Act), one in every four adults in Northeast Florida is living with a mental illness. And 20 percent of the region’s 13 to 18 year olds have experienced a severe mental illness.

The foundation and alliance say the issue needs both additional funding as well as awareness and attention.

At the outset of the initiative in 2012, WGA’s strategy combined grantmaking, education and advocacy efforts and it chose to focus its investments on addressing three key three aspects of mental health:

Trauma-informed support — Grantees -- which ranged from organizations that work with domestic violence survivors, providers of behavioral health, and those that work with homeless women -- look at trauma as the cause of many mental health and substance abuse difficulties and aim to address the underlying trauma first, through counseling, personalized access to case management, and programs that work on helping women re-enter the workforce and world after that trauma is cared for.

Co-located & Wraparound Services — Because mental health struggles so often intersect with other challenges like poverty, substance abuse and physical health problems, WGA aimed almost one third of its funding at providers that integrated all of these elements, such as the Barnabas Center in Nassau County, Fla., which used the grant to support incarcerated women and those going through treatment for domestic violence: “Therapy coupled with wraparound services (e.g., medical, dental, emergency food, crisis assistance) focused on survivors’ strengths and overall health and wellbeing,” WGA’s report notes.

Innovative Practices — Through the initiative, WGA supported pilot programs and new “reform-minded” services. Its grant funding helped increase access from 25 girls in a program for individual and group therapy focusing on substance abuse and health relationships to 158 girls. Another grant-funded program used a sliding fee scale to cover copays for those who could not afford treatment, and also offered services provided in the home.

The program has received positive local press attention, something the foundation and alliance believe was sorely needed.

“What the Women’s Giving Alliance did to shine a light on local mental health services for women and girls is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Nina Waters, the foundation’s president. “These women—all volunteers—took a difficult, extremely fractured focus area and through countless hours of research, education, advocacy, collaboration, and in conjunction with nearly $2 million in grants, offered mental health resources to thousands of women and girls who might not otherwise have received services. The board and staff of The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida could not be more proud of WGA for embarking on this initiative, and for the tremendous results that have been achieved.”

Amanda Palleschi