Peter Drucker has taught us that if we want to plan for uncertainty we must ask ourselves, “What has already happened that will create our future?”  Over the last two years, I’ve traveled the country asking government and nonprofit leaders this very question.  Through my talks, I have noticed these six main themes that have emerged as shifts that will likely shape the future of the sector, one of which has to do with mental health.

  1. Redefining Accountability
  2. “What Works” Requires Investment in Data Collection
  3. Behavioral and Mental Health Issues Are Finally Getting Attention
  4. Succession Planning is Needed
  5. High-Performance Measurement Cultures Pay
  6. Collaboration is King

Funders and social sector leaders are becoming more sophisticated in examining what works most effectively to solve our communities’ problems (see hot topics 1 and 2 for more).  This includes an examination of the factors which are interfering with otherwise successful outcomes.  Workforce development, public safety, public health, education, child welfare, and community development professionals all agree on one thing – untreated mental health and addiction issues are at the top of the list of significant factors that interfere with their success.

Yes, this has been the case for way too long; however, the good news is mental and behavioral health is finally getting the attention it deserves.  More data and conversations are opening the door for increases in innovation and funding for mental and behavioral health interventions.

Hot Topic #3 Behavioral and Mental Health Issues Are Finally Getting Attention

Untreated addiction and mental health issues are having a profound impact on communities across America.  These issues cut across all socioeconomic and racial groups.  In addition to the personal impact, untreated mental and behavioral health issues are costing tax payers billions, if not trillions of dollars each year.

Individuals with untreated mental illness are more likely to be involved with publicly-funded systems at some point in their lives. These systems include Medicaid, social security disability insurance, jail and/or incarceration, drug treatment, foster care and homelessness programs.  Additionally, individuals with mental illness are likely to have reduced incomes when compared to their counterparts.  According to a recent study by Measurement Resources[1] in partnership with Western Youth Services, it costs Anaheim, California alone more than $46 million annually in community costs due to untreated mental illness in children and young adults. The cost becomes unfathomable when it is extrapolated for all communities over the country and over a lifetime.

There is hope in this story

With proper mental health and addiction interventions, the likelihood of these undesirable outcomes drops considerably.  For example, when the youth in Anaheim County were served by Western Youth Services evidence and school-based mental health program, it led to a community cost reduction of approximately 68 percent, or more than $31 million dollars!  For every one-dollar invested into this program, the community saved more than $6.00 in future and ongoing community costs.  Addressing mental health also improves outcomes in almost every other social sector system!

At the Federal Level, President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) into law on July 22, 2016.  This is a comprehensive effort to address the opioid epidemic using a coordinated response which includes prevention, treatment, recovery, law enforcement, criminal justice reform, and overdose reversals.  This law authorizes over $181 million dollars each year in new funding to fight the opioid epidemic.

Corporate funders are also responding to the need to effectively address behavioral and mental health issues in significant ways.  For example, Big Lots with the Big Lots Foundation recently pledged $50 million dollars to Nationwide Children’s Hospital to help build a Behavioral Health Pavilion, which will include both treatment and research. Hospital leaders have committed to research the causes and best treatment protocols for young people dealing with mental health challenges.   This is the largest corporate donation ever to be specifically devoted to a pediatric and adolescent behavioral health program.  President and CEO of Big Lots, David Campisi said the following about the organization’s motivation for donating; “Nationally, behavioral health programming is underfunded and ignored.  We’re going to address that with our gift.  It’s the right thing to do.  Now is the right time”.

Are you Ready?

Behavioral and mental health organizations are not the only groups who will benefit from this shift.  To truly achieve positive outcomes, these efforts will require the efforts or all sectors: education, child welfare, public health, justice, the faith community, and many more.

Tremendous opportunities will be available for organizations who are prepared and ready for these changes.  For example, Nationwide Children’s Hospital received the $50 million dollar gift from Big Lots because of their reputation for impact, their commitment to building the Behavioral and Mental Health Pavilion and taking evidence-based approaches to advance the field of mental illness for children.

To be a part of this new era of addressing addiction and untreated mental health issues in our communities will require organizations to demonstrate to funders how their programs and services are effectively working to make a difference.  At the very least they will need to demonstrate their culture of innovation and continuous improvement to ensure they are working to be part of the solution.

Know Your Impact

Now, more than ever, it is critical that you start developing systems to measure your results and community costs.  Do you know, like Western Youth Services does, the success rate of your programs and the social return on investment of your work?  To get started, you will need to do the following things.

  1. Define program success. Good measures for mental and behavioral health programs include:
    1. meaningful improvements in daily functioning,
    2. improved educational performance and/or obtainment,
    3. improved employment outcomes;
    4. improved self-sufficiency
  1. Calculate the per person cost to the community if the problem is not addressed. This requires linking published research on the likelihood of certain outcomes and then analyzing your community’s publicly available data to generate an accurate estimate. The first step is to generate a total community cost and divide that by the number of community members estimated to have that problem to achieve an average per person cost.
  1. Calculate the cost of your program to serve one client successfully. In order to do this, you need to know the total cost of your program divided by the number of clients who have achieved a successful outcome.
  1. Calculate your program’s social return on investment.  You achieve this with the following formula.

Social Return on Investment= Community Cost – Program Cost per success

                                                      Program Cost per success

Committing to create systems to make data-driven decisions now will increase the likelihood you will be able to part of the exciting work towards improving mental and behavioral health over the next decade.

What are you waiting for?

If you are seeking assistance to help you measure your outcomes and calculate your social return on investment, Measurement Resources is here to help!  Contact us today to schedule a call to explore why we have the best solution for you.

Also, visit next week to learn the importance of succession planning and what your organization needs to do to prepare.


[1] Please contact for access to the Anaheim California Community Cost Study.