A Hidden Challenge: Addressing Mental Health and the Cycle of Poverty

By Becca Truitt

Tipping Point has always fought poverty in unique ways. It’s one of the reasons I was inspired to work for the organization after hearing CEO + Founder Daniel Lurie speak at an event back in 2010. Whether it’s by providing general operating support so non-profits can put funds where they need them most, or connecting best-in-class Bay Area companies to grantees to provide the training, insight and products they otherwise couldn’t get — we pride ourselves on being a different kind of funder, a true partner to our groups.

In 2007, we set out to tackle one of the toughest challenges facing the 45 non-profits we fund — mental health. One in five Americans experiences a mental disorder in the course of a year, but in low-income communities, mental illness is two- to three-times as prevalent. Living in poverty doesn’t just mean scraping by with fewer financial resources, it also can mean less access to early detection and treatment for mental health challenges.

Despite the diversity of Tipping Point’s grant-making portfolio — with focus areas ranging from education and employment to housing and wellness, varied size and age of organizations, and representation across the multi-county region — we heard the same thing: mental health services were absolutely essential to low-income individuals’ and families’ ability to overcome poverty, but they were the first thing to get cut when budgets got tight. Grantees struggled to provide meaningful support to clients facing mental illness and trauma, and they wondered how much more sticky their interventions could be if they figured out this piece of the equation.

We also learned that this issue not only impacts those seeking services from our groups, but that frontline staff were deeply affected by bearing witness to clients’ stories of trauma. Unresolved vicarious trauma often leads to compassion fatigue, burnout, and frequent staff turnover; hindering an organization’s ability to deliver on its mission.

In response to these needs, Tipping Point pioneered an approach to build grantees’ capacity to provide high-quality, culturally appropriate mental health services to those in need. This program, called our Mental Health Initiative, operates in partnership with University of California San Francisco’s (UCSF), Child Trauma Research Program (CTRP), Child and Adolescent Services (CAS) and Trauma Recovery Services (TRC) and Stanford University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. We provide select Tipping Point grantees with clinical services, consultation and agency-specific mental health training. In addition, we host up to 10 expert-led Tipping Point Workshops annually to grantee staff at all levels on topics ranging from practitioner self-care to motivational interviewing.

Miriam Hernandez Dimmler, Associate Director, UCSF Child Trauma Research Program (Photo: Kevin Meynell )

Reading Partners, a national literacy organization that aims to close the reading achievement gap by the time students reach fourth grade, has been a Tipping Point grantee since 2007. Because the organization relies on AmeriCorps members as site coordinators and runs its reading centers on volunteer talent, the majority of its personnel enter sites in low-income urban districts with limited preparation. Tipping Point contracted with a clinical psychologist who developed targeted trainings and curriculum for Reading Partners’ staff. Content included how to combat racial stress and implicit bias, stress management, children’s emotional and cognitive development and diversity. And while this was originally intended for Bay Area sites only, the trainings proved so valuable that the team has started to apply the same model for frontline staff across the country.

Zynga volunteers at Reading Partners.

We have invested more than $6 million in the Mental Health Initiative. This year, 10 clinical interns and staff from UCSF and Stanford have been placed at 7 Tipping Point grantee sites to provide direct services to clients. An additional 12 grantees are receiving ongoing consultation from field experts. I am proud of the comprehensive support we provide in this area, and grateful to work for a funder who isn’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and create urgently needed programming to fill gaps in our sector. This initiative is just one of the many types of support we provide beyond the dollar to increase our grantees’ impact.

Becca Truitt is the Senior Associate, Strategic Partnerships at Tipping Point Community and has been the coordinator for the Mental Health Initiative for the last three years.

Tipping Point

1.3 million people in the Bay Area are too poor to meet their basic needs. Without intervention, 7 in 10 people born in poverty will remain in poverty their entire lives. With your help, Tipping Point Community is tipping the odds.

Tipping Point

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We fight poverty by finding and funding the most promising non-profits in the Bay Area. See how we’re changing the odds: www.tippingpoint.org + @tippingpoint

Tipping Point

1.3 million people in the Bay Area are too poor to meet their basic needs. Without intervention, 7 in 10 people born in poverty will remain in poverty their entire lives. With your help, Tipping Point Community is tipping the odds.