5 nonprofits offering innovative mental health solutions

These mental health organizations are proving that solutions start locally

Barber with scissors in each hand

One-in-five Americans experienced a mental health episode in 2020. And of those who sought help, many didn’t find hope – including 4.9 million people who were unable to access mental health services at all.

Mental health solutions continue to take center stage in the face of so many crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, but empowering every person to become the best version of themselves requires innovation. 

The question is: What does innovation in the mental health field look like?

Stand Together Foundation partners with some of the most effective community-based nonprofits in America. They’re demonstrating how to meet people where they are and help them get to where they want to go. Here is just a handful:

1. Youth Guidance

Youth Guidance creates and implements school-based programs that enable school-age children in under-resourced communities to focus on their education and succeed. Two of their programs are:

  • BAM® (Becoming A Man) counsels boys in 7-12th grade. Using a mix of clinical theory, practice, and fun activities, the boys work on social cognitive skills and build their decision making skills. Nearly 15,000 boys have enrolled. Those who have are 25% more engaged in school and 50% less likely to be arrested for a violent crime. BAM is currently in six cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles.
  • WOW® (Working on Womanhood) works on social and emotional skills for girls in 7th-12th grade who have been exposed to traumatic stressors. There are about 2,400 students enrolled in 40 Chicago schools. The results of the program have been positive with 62% of WOW students reporting fewer PTSD symptoms and 71% reporting fewer symptoms of depression. 

2. The Phoenix

The Phoenix promotes lasting sobriety through structured activities. There are 162,000 members in 45 states, taking 456 classes a week in meditation, cycling, hiking, dancing, and many other physical and social activities.

Participants in recovery support one another and use a shared activity to replace old habits with something positive. After three months, 87% of participants remained sober and 71% of participants reported feeling more connected. In the same time frame, 72% felt more empowered, while 78% felt more hopeful.

3. The Confess Project of America

The Confess Project trains barbers in Black communities across the country to operate as mental health advocates. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for Black men ages 18-24 and only 3-4% of mental health professionals are Black. The team of therapists, scientists, academics, and community advocates working with Confess has trained 1,900 barbers reaching one million people in 48 cities to listen to their clients, validate their feelings, positively communicate, and reduce the stigma around mental health in communities of color.

4. Black Men Heal

Black Men Heal provides free-of-charge therapy sessions to Black and Brown men seeking mental health care. Minority men face a variety of barriers that make therapy harder to access even though people of color are 20% more likely to experience mental health struggles.

The men have access to eight sessions matched with therapists of color and are encouraged to be open with one another and their community. This helps to destigmatize therapy and paves the road for more people of color to get the help they need. More than 75% of men who have completed the free sessions have continued therapy.

5. PeaceLove

PeaceLove uses painting, music, writing, and other means of creative expression to address mental health issues. Creators are trained to lead workshops in their own communities. The idea is to create a feeling of vulnerability, celebration, and empowerment through art. PeaceLove operates in over 27 states, as well as Canada, and impacts 100,000 people with their work.

While each of these nonprofits is very different, the principles that make them so effective are the same: They believe in the dignity of every person and see people for the individuals they are. That’s in stark contrast to conventional approaches, which are characterized by one-size-fits-all programs not tailored to individual needs. 

Evan Feinberg, the executive director of Stand Together Foundation, believes this insight can transform the social sector more broadly.

“We [nonprofit organizations] need to treat individuals facing barriers as the customers of our efforts,” Evan says. “If we help people to tap into their gifts and talents and contribute, we can drive a bottom-up revolution in how philanthropy and community-based work is done.”

Learn more about Stand Together’s health care reform efforts.