December 6, 2023

Mental Health America: Giving a Voice to an Often-Unspoken Crisis

Author National Philanthropic Trust

Content warning: Distressing mental health topics are discussed in this blog. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988, or text MHA to 741741.

In the headquarters of Mental Health America (MHA) in Alexandria, Virginia, there rests a 300-pound bell known as the Mental Health Bell, also known as the Bell of Hope. For 60 years this bell has been rung to mark meaningful moments throughout the organization’s journey. Before the mental health reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, many asylums and institutions used iron shackles and restraints to forcefully control the patients they were meant to be helping. During the 1950s when many asylums and institutions were shuttered, MHA put out a collection call for these now out-of-use “tools.” The bell was cast from the melted down shackles and restraints collected from institutions around the U.S., transforming symbols of abuse and misunderstanding into an emblem of resilience and strength.

Founded in 1909 by Clifford W. Beers, along with eminent philosopher William James and psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, MHA is “rooted in lived experience and focused on prevention and early intervention,” says Stuart Allen, the organization’s chief marketing and advancement officer. Since its founding, Allen explains MHA has pursued its mission to “fight in the open” following the idea that “if we don’t talk about it and we don’t advocate, things won’t change.”

MHA continually cultivates the world’s largest database of mental health data, which helps inform their advocacy and action. Their 2023 State of Mental Health in America report reveals that approximately 21% of Americans—over 50 million people—reported experiencing a mental illness. The data MHA gathers is essential because unlike federal data, which can take so long to release that it loses accuracy, the data found in their county and state mental health maps is gathered in real time.

In that same report, MHA found that 55% of adults with a mental illness receive no treatment. In addition to mental health advocacy and data collection, MHA seeks to provide and connect people with equitable, accessible and empathetic mental health resources both online and in-person through their 143 affiliates found across the country. One of their most popular resources are their free online mental health screenings covering subjects like anxiety, ADHD, depression, addiction and PTSD.

Philanthropy is what makes MHA’s invaluable work possible, and DAF donors have the potential to play an engaged and highly impactful role. “What I really appreciate about DAF donors is their intention to make investments in the world. There’s clearly a change they want to see or a narrative they want to be a part of,” Allen says.

What I really appreciate about DAF donors is their intention to make investments in the world. There’s clearly a change they want to see or a narrative they want to be a part of.

She points out that this intentionality from donors lends itself to the development of more thoughtful charitable strategies, and being privy to what inspired a donor to give can help inform fruitful long-term relationships between philanthropists and nonprofits. “Oftentimes, they can be thinking multi-year big impact. Compared to someone writing a check, they’re able to think about their impact more holistically.”

Nearly 1 in 5 American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. So, as we approach the holiday season, it’s important to remember that this can be an especially difficult time for many people. As Allen notes, “We know mental health is every day, but there are definitely peaks where we see a lot of increased need in communities.” MHA has a host of supplementary content available online related to coping with stress and depression, finding support, navigating addiction recovery and more during the holiday season.

For additional information regarding mental health resources, please visit:

General guide to Mental Health America’s resource offerings: Get Help | Mental Health America

Mental Health Screenings: Take a Mental Health Test

Warmlines: Need to talk to someone?

Crisis Resources: Resources for Immediate Response

Help During the Holidays: Hope For The Holidays

About the Author

Kathryn Lena Kochanowicz is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2019 with a degree in English Literature & Creative Writing, and currently resides in Hatboro, PA.