Funders urged to consider systems-based approaches to youth mental health investment


Funders should explore a systems-based approach to fund youth mental health charities and their work amid increased demand for services, according to a new report.

The Youth Mental Health Crisis report, from the think tank NPC, says philanthropic funding is not keeping pace with the rising demand for youth mental health services.

It says that while funders increased their giving during the pandemic, this figure has since dropped off, despite the number of referrals to children and young people’s mental health services continuing to rise.

The report adds that charity sector support across the country is “not equal”, saying: “Research has highlighted how individuals in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods receive less than half the amount of funding per capita in comparison to the national average in England and the average across other deprived areas.”

Between 2008 and 2014, there was a 9 per cent fall in charities’ real income in the least deprived local authorities in England and Wales, compared with a 14 per cent reduction in the most deprived, according to the report.

NPC says: “Our collective failure to address this crisis is also storing up serious problems further down the line.

“Strategic investment in the charity sector is key to national recovery and growth on multiple fronts, not least in addressing the UK’s mental health crisis.”

The report includes a number of recommendations for funders working in this sector, including the exploration of a systems-based approach to funding. 

While the report says that targeted funding in areas such as early intervention or support for marginalised young people could help address gaps in the current provision of mental health support, it suggests that “transformative funders” could “go further”.

It says: “We need funders who seek to understand and influence the systems which combine to create the mental health issues that children and young people experience.”

The youth mental health crisis stems from a “bewildering array of interconnected factors – personal, relational, social, political, cultural, environmental – that are virtually impossible to untangle”, it says. The report adds that mental health also connects with all areas of government policy.

The report says there is a need to “zoom out” and look at all these factors, suggesting the creation of a “pooled fund which supports service-delivery work alongside policy, campaigning and systems-change work”. 

NPC is also urging funders to enable collaboration across the mental health sector by connecting larger and smaller organisations and encouraging the sharing of good practice. 

Hannah Large, the report’s author and senior consultant at NPC, said: “Our research confirmed what many of us are already feeling – that charities are under increasing pressure from the rise in youth mental health problems.

“Funders want to know how they can support charities and young people to deal with this. We’ve identified the key ways to maximise their impact, focusing on the biggest leverage points like preventative work, training more staff, and building digital tools that can meet demand.”

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