Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. reporting a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder.

In 2016, of the 7.7 million children with treatable mental health disorders, about half did not receive adequate treatment. Furthermore, the suicide rate in the U.S. is the highest among wealthy nations, and data suggest that 1 in 5 young women and 1 in 10 young men experience a clinical episode of major depression before age 25.

In San Diego County alone, local health professionals report 28 times more children needing psychiatric help than 10 years ago. For females, the estimated increase was 42.6% compared to 20.8% for males, suggesting the gender disparity is becoming more pronounced over time. In addition, underserved populations including LGBTQ+ and communities of color reported the highest levels of depression according to a 2019 study of San Diego high-school-aged youth.

Addressing the Youth Mental Health Crisis

With these numbers in mind, San Diego Women’s Foundation (SDWF) members voted to fund organizations addressing the youth mental health crisis for our Cycle 24 grants.

However, in order to fund solutions to such a challenging issue, you have to understand it – and that includes learning about the factors that contribute to it, who is most impacted, and the work that is being done in our community to address the issue.

Young confident black man with notebook pointing at one of patients

In July of this year, the San Diego Women’s Foundation reached out to nonprofits to help them learn about their funding topic through an appreciative inquiry survey. Their responses allow SDWF to better understand the work happening in the community to address youth mental health, narrow their grant guidelines, and identify the areas where support is most needed.

Surveying Nonprofits

Over 30 organizations responded to their survey this year, and here are a few of the things that they learned:

SDWF asked organizations: What are the driving risk factors behind the youth mental health crisis in San Diego County?

The top responses were: systemic trauma or marginalizing experiences based on socioeconomic factors, race/ethnicity or gender/sexual identity; adverse childhood experiences (ACEs); social isolation; and barriers to mental health care.

When asked about the communities most impacted by youth mental health challenges, survey respondents highlighted the following: BIPOC communities; LGBTQ+ individuals, especially transgender and nonbinary youth; and low-income or economically disadvantaged groups.

Finally, when it comes to the biggest obstacles nonprofits face in this work, staff costs and general funding rose to the top by a wide margin. In particular, respondents highlighted the need for funding to expand services, to reach more people, and without restrictions and heavy burdens or reporting requirements.

Thanks to this feedback, SDWF narrowed its grant guidelines to better reflect community needs.

SDWF is accepting letters of inquiry (LOI) from nonprofit organizations providing mental health intervention services to junior high- or middle-school-aged youth in San Diego County.

SDWF will prioritize organizations that provide services targeted toward those most impacted by existing inequities (youth from communities of color, from families earning a low income, those who identify as LGBTQ+, and/or who are part of other historically marginalized groups).

Please see SDWF grant guidelines here.

Prior to submitting an application, all grant seekers are strongly encouraged to view the recording of our Grantseekers Forum (passcode: W3i28?Av) to learn about the SDWF LOI Guidelines and Grant process. The LOI submission deadline is 5 p.m., Nov. 30, 2023.

About SDWF

San Diego Women's Foundation 2023 Grants Celebration

As a supporting organization of San Diego Foundation, the San Diego Women’s Foundation connects, educates and inspires women to come together in collective philanthropy. It is a membership organization, founded in the year 2000 with a vision of elevating women in philanthropy.

Together, its 200-plus members have made significant changes in the community through its annual grantmaking process. Learn more and become a member at SDWomensFoundation.org.