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Blank Family Foundation gives millions to mental health and well-being

The foundation’s mental health director said the organization is ‘putting a stake in the ground for mental health’ in the coming years.

The Blank Family Foundation is putting its stake in a growing mental health and well-being philanthropy field with $8 million in grant funding to various nonprofits across 2023. The foundation, one of the largest philanthropic groups in Atlanta, revealed its list of 2023 grantees at a Dec. 12 roundtable meeting.

The millions of grant dollars build on $5 million in grants during 2022, when the foundation first started its focus on mental health philanthropy. Blank Foundation Mental Health and Well-Being Managing Director Beth Brown said the field has only begun to grow and evolve in recent years to match existing needs.

“Over the past two years, we’ve been learning from experts in the mental health field, policymakers, and most importantly, young people, about the extent of need for services as well as hopeful innovations in supporting mental health and well-being,” Brown said.

Through research and learning, Brown said the foundation learned some staggering statistics about America’s “mental health crisis.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than one in five adults live with a mental illness.

Brown also focused on mental health as a continuum beyond the black-and-white view of stigmatized mental illness. The United States Surgeon General announced in 2023 that approximately half of all adults in the country experience loneliness.

“Our dream is not to just say, ‘yeah, I feel stable,’” Brown said.

Instead, the managing director wants people to reach a place of flourishing and well-being somewhere on the mental health continuum. To address all aspects of wellness, though, the foundation looked at organizations that tackle different aspects of mental health and wellness.

The foundation focused on two key themes in the space: the loneliness epidemic and digital mental health. Brown said they looked at the Surgeon General’s advisory on loneliness, which highlighted the benefit of social connections in the workplace.

For its 2023 grants on loneliness, the Blank Family Foundation gave $250,000 to Over Zero to create tools and training for work leaders to increase belonging. The organization launched its own study called “The Belonging Barometer” in 2023 in partnership with the American Immigration Council, which takes a comprehensive look at whether people feel they belong.

“Bottom line in general is that there’s this feeling of a real lack of belonging,” Brown said, adding the grant to Over Zero would take the data from the barometer to develop training and tools to improve belonging in the workplace. An additional $400,000 grant to the nonprofit One Mind will support work to build belonging in nonprofit workplaces.

The foundation also focused heavily on the intersection of technology and mental health, particularly when it comes to young people. It gave three grants to technology-focused groups and projects. A $325,000 grant to Common Sense Media will fund research and outreach regarding the impact smartphones and artificial intelligence have on young people, while a $675,000 grant to Project Healthy Minds will fund a “user-friendly digital gateway for mental health services.”

Additionally, a $150,000 grant will go to Atlanta-based national organization Black Girls Smile.

The group, founded in 2012 by Lauren Carson, serves young Black girls, women and femmes with a focus on mental health education and access to resources. Carson created the nonprofit thanks to her own mental health journey.

“I just saw there were quite a few gaps as it pertains to mental health, well-being, proactive early intervention and prevention for young Black women, girls and toddlers,” Carson said.

Like the Blank Foundation, Black Girls Smile approaches mental health and well-being through a continuum of care. The grant will fund part of this approach through BeWellBlkGirl, a “digital online platform committed to connecting Black girls, their supporters and advocates with culturally sensitive and gender-responsive local and national wellness resources.”

Carson said the platform will look at all sorts of mental health solutions and care rather than a “one size fits all model.”

“We want to have several entry points, but one of the entry points we’re focusing particularly on in our partnership with the Blank Foundation is assisting with creating new spaces for Black girls to be in community and focus on healing,” Carson said. “But also increasing access and navigation assistance to mental health resources across the spectrum.”

To Carson, that may look like more traditional approaches like therapy assistance and a push for in-patient treatment that employs Black women who are mental health providers, as well as herbalism and Reiki.

“I would challenge others individually, systems and organizations to think more expansively on mental health support,” Carson said.

That also includes the broader philanthropic approach to mental health and well-being. Carson said the field is still in the “infancy stages” of things like research and policy work and still has to create research that speaks to Black girls and women.

The founder and executive director said the field still needs to determine the “metrics of success.” Unlike other fields, funders don’t have cut-and-dry impact reports or widely understood “gold standards” to rely on.

It’s a sentiment that Brown echoed and something the Blank Foundation focused on with its grant-giving. To bolster the space, the organization will give a combined $3.75 million to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America to support research, advocacy, and education efforts across the mental health field.

For long-term success and growth, the foundation aims to inspire greater philanthropy in the field, with Brown hoping for “more dollars and more strategic collaborative work” with other foundations in the field.

In the future, with a well-built field, Brown hopes to expand the scope of the foundation’s work to look at younger age groups and how issues intersect. At the moment, though, she said the foundation team is still “learning quite broadly” in the space.

“By this time next year, we will be more focused — we’ll take what we’ve learned, both around the trends in services and needs around mental health well-being and really thinking,” Brown said.

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