Now is the time to support young people’s mental health

Here's how you can make a difference

Happy family lying in bed talking to each other

Across the country, school is back in full swing. For many parents, our focus has turned to packing lunches, patchworking together afterschool activities, and cajoling our kids into homework routines.

But something else is top of mind too—we’re worried about our children’s mental health.

Over the last few years, I’ve spent nights lying awake, worried about my son’s resilience in the midst of a pandemic, social unrest, horrific gun violence, and rapid climate change. I’m not alone—80% of parents are concerned about the mental health status of their children, according to a 2022 Harris poll, and 87% of Americans are worried about young people.

We have been in a youth mental health crisis since 2020, when signs of anxiety and depression doubled. Unfortunately, less than 2% of global health funding and only 0.5% of philanthropic health giving is designated to mental health.

But there is some good news—donors have incredible opportunities to support the powerful work of nonprofits focused on youth mental health. 

Here are three high-impact approaches you can take to make a difference:

Give with an equity lensMental illness isn’t biased (it can affect anybody), but children and youth who are of color and/or LGBTQ+ face significant barriers to accessing help. Research shows that Black and Hispanic adolescents access 48% fewer visits to mental health providers than their white peers, and  LGBTQ+ youth often face discrimination or lack of cultural understanding when they speak with providers, preventing them from seeking and receiving help. To address these acute needs, Fidelity Charitable donors are supporting organizations such as the AAKOMA Project and The Trevor Project.

Many of the nonprofits doing the best work on the ground are small to mid-sized community-based groups. These can be hard for donors to identify. Giving to expert intermediary funders, like The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health, can help donors reach these organizations while achieving greater impact through collaborative giving.

Invest in prevention. Giving to programs that reach children early has lifelong benefits. Research shows the significant impact and high economic returns of early childhood interventions that support their brain development and mental health.

According to a recent study, 1 in 14 children aged 0–17 years had a parent with reported poor mental health. Those children were more likely to have poor health in general, as well as a mental, emotional, or developmental disability. Many were living in poverty and had been exposed to adverse childhood experiences. At Fidelity Charitable, several of our donors have supported organizations like Nurse-Family Partnership and Child First, which recently joined forces in serving young children with free home visits from clinicians. Children and their parents receive two-generation mental health support to protect them from toxic stress and build their resilience. 

Support two causes you care about—mental health and education—by funding programs in schools. Like most important issues, youth mental health overlaps with other areas of need, one being investing in K–12 education. When children are experiencing anxiety, it’s often their teachers who notice it first. K–12 schools and educators are positioned to provide a lifeline to young people, but most schools don’t have the resources they need to respond. On average, federal funding makes up 8% of school funding and state and local funding varies widely by state. Donors have an opportunity to make a much-needed impact in this growing area of need, and Mindful Philanthropy has great resources for those interested in funding school-based initiatives.

College students are struggling too. We’ve seen donors rise to the occasion by supporting established nonprofits like The Steve Fund, which helps colleges and universities build support systems for students of color. Other donors are helping to start new initiatives—one generous family with a Fidelity Charitable Giving Account made a pivotal gift to help launch a mental telehealth program for community college students in the Denver area, providing free, convenient therapy sessions for a population of students that are predominately Latinx. 

Bonus! . . . Giving is good for the giver.

Another donor couple, Rick and Molly Klau, recently told us how it felt to take action through giving: “When we made a grant to help grow Upstream Education, a nonprofit focused on social-emotional learning that trains teachers how to coach their students on managing anxiety, we were confident of the positive impact our investment would have in meeting the future mental health needs of the students.” 

Happiness, connection, confidence, hopefulness—these are feelings that come with giving. Not surprisingly, studies show that giving actually boosts our health and emotional well-being. Together, we can build a brighter future for our kids and rest a little easier at night. 

Sarah Weissberg

Sarah Weissberg

Director, Philanthropic Research

Sarah Weissberg joined Fidelity Charitable in 2018 and has more than 15 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector and philanthropy. As part of the Private Donor Group team, Sarah conducts research and creates custom resources to help Fidelity Charitable donors provide transformational support for nonprofits. She previously worked at Duke University where she connected donors with opportunities to support a wide array of programs across the university.

Before Duke, she spent several years as Director of Member Relations at the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, a statewide association for nonprofits. She also worked at an NPR-affiliated public radio station in Asheville, North Carolina. Sarah holds a bachelor of arts degree from Guilford College, a master of arts degree from North Carolina State University, and a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke. She lives in Durham, N.C.

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