THE BLOG

A Corporate Push to End the Stigma of Mental Illness

03/16/2015 11:48 am ET | Updated May 16, 2015

When a corporation pledges to raise $10 million to support a worthy cause, it rarely makes headlines. That was not the case when skin care company Philosophy recently announced that it will donate one percent of sales of certain products to organizations that help treat people with mental illness.

So why is this announcement newsworthy? Clearly it is a wonderfully bold, substantive initiative by a forward-looking company willing to talk about mental illness and back that talk up with meaningful action. But its very newsworthiness also highlights a distressing fact. It is an indicator that while corporate support for mental health research, treatment and awareness efforts is uncommon, nearly non-existent, many other health issues receive regular and substantial corporate philanthropy.

I searched online for examples of support for mental health coming from private corporations. The results were extremely meager. There are many largely self-serving initiatives from pharmaceutical companies, typically focused on the development of medication to treat mental illnesses -- from which they stand to make billions of dollars. If there is corporate philanthropy being directed to mental health services, it is certainly is not being trumpeted.

Why is there such an enormous disparity in corporate funding for mental illness compared with diseases like breast cancer, Parkinson's disease and autism? It may simply be all about the stigma that remains stubbornly attached to mental illness. If we, as individuals, remain uncomfortable talking about it, it's unrealistic to expect corporations, with their aversion to unnecessary risk, to jump into the conversation.

The general reluctance of corporations to be associated with mental health has several troubling implications. First and foremost, it may be the key reason for the lack of private funding available for new and continuing research into disorders ranging from mood and anxiety disorders to the psychoses, such as schizophrenia. Almost one in five American adults suffers from some form of mental illness. Yet the field of mental health research remains desperately underfunded. Society would benefit tremendously from the development of new early indicators and evidence-based interventions, for example, that could help people before their illnesses progress -- and their treatments become more difficult and expensive.

By openly and proudly supporting mental health issues, corporate America would also be helping to end the persistent and ugly stigma surrounding mental illness. As a society, we continue to whisper about issues that will impact almost all of us, either directly or through a family member or friend. A culture of shame surrounding mental illness only serves to dissuade those who need help from seeking it.

A new era of corporate acknowledgment of, and support for, mental health would give a dramatic boost to how we address mental illness in America. Philosophy, a medium-sized corporation, made a big move by committing $10 million to this cause. If even a handful of our large private corporations made a similar gesture of philanthropic support, quite modest by their standards, imagine how that could impact the availability of treatment options or the development of a game-changing, stigma-busting public awareness campaign.

We need to shift our collective view of mental illness, making the millions fighting in silence and isolation feel they can acknowledge their need for help and empowering them to pursue it. This is much more likely if to happen if corporate America finally steps up and leads the way.