Last spring, as public health guidance urged Americans that the safest place was home, a troubling number of teenagers across the country found themselves with no place to go. During the first week of San Diego’s COVID-19 shut down, TransFamily Support Services started receiving urgent calls from trans youth who could not count on a place in their family’s homes. In Seattle, You Grow Girl—a nonprofit that provides counseling and mentorship for girls of color—experienced skyrocketing demand for its services as schools closed and young people lost their traditional sources of support.
Across the country, a pattern emerged: Young people in urgent need of mental health services found those services out of reach. As the pandemic has gone on, teens suffering from anxiety and depression have been stuck on wait lists for care; young people haven’t been able to afford therapy after their parents were laid off and lost their health insurance; safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth have disappeared because of social distancing rules.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the COVID crisis, the share of mental health-related E.R. visits has increased by 31% among 12- to 17-year-olds.
Without question, COVID-19 has been a mental health disaster for young people in America, but the reality is that our country's mental healthcare system hasn’t been meeting their needs for a long time. Even before the pandemic, around one in six youth experienced a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety, and youth suicide has been on the rise since 2007. Yet, only half of America’s youth with a mental health condition receive treatment.
Young people of color and LGBTQ+ youth face even greater barriers to getting care—because of financial costs, stigma, a shortage of providers, and lack of access to services that reflect their needs and experiences. At the same time, they are also dealing with the trauma of systemic racism and discrimination.
Young people in crisis can’t wait for the country to address the systemic failings of the mental healthcare system. They need help today.
The good news is that local nonprofit organizations across the U.S. are doing heroic work—even as they, too, grapple with COVID’s impacts—to address young people’s mental health needs. They are providing virtual counseling, bringing young people together through gaming, dropping off care packages at front doors, turning buses into mobile therapy spaces, and combining wellness checks with food delivery services for young people who are homeless or in foster care.
To support these efforts, Pivotal Ventures partnered with behavioral health strategist Solomé Tibebu and Panorama Global last October to launch The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health. This new collaborative fund, also supported by The Klarman Family Foundation and advised by adolescent mental health experts, is quickly getting grants out the door to nonprofits providing direct services to young people and working to make the mental healthcare system more accessible and inclusive.
Today, The Upswing Fund announced a total of $10.8 million in grants to 88 organizations based in 33 states and Washington, D.C.—organizations that primarily focus on reaching young people of color and LGBTQ+ youth.
The grantees include groups like the Kaleidoscope Youth Center in Columbus, Ohio, which provides housing and support services for LGBTQ+ youth; Doc Wayne in Boston, Massachusetts, which combines therapy and sports to reach young people; and Project DIVA in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which supports Black girls through coaching and career activities.
Other grantees are focused on expanding the mental health workforce, better integrating counseling services at schools, reducing the stigma around seeking mental healthcare, and more.
Robert Vitelli, the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth, noted the importance of investing in the well-being of young people right now, saying: “The support from Upswing is literally a lifesaver, and the support couldn’t come at a better time.”
The Upswing Fund is part of Pivotal’s broader efforts to support the mental and emotional well-being of young people in the U.S. We are working to equip more adolescents—and the people who care for them—with the tools and resources they need to thrive. This is how we’ll improve lives today and advance social progress in the months and years to come.