A Look Back, A Look Forward: Five Years of Advancing the Mental, Social, and Spiritual Health of the U. S.

Sharpening our focus for the future

A Message from Tyler Norris, MDiv, CEO, Well Being Trust

Five years since Well Being Trust’s founding, our nation is experiencing a prolonged inflection point. 

On the one hand, rates of suicide, overdose, and mental health and addiction struggles continue to rise at record rates. People are suffering mightily. On the other, our understanding of the multi-causality of this suffering and our ability to implement effective solutions is growing apace. 

There are sacred questions to be asked: Whither shall we go? What shall we wisely do? Who are we called to be, individually and together, in these times?

As a person of lived experience, who for 40 years has worked for healthy people and healthy places, I remain filled with hope and promise. There is much goodness to build on at every level across our great nation. How to work with these gifts, assets and notable momentum is at the heart of my message. Let us start by holding in one view, what may seem like a polarity.  As human beings, we can be fully awake to the multiple causes of our increasing mental health and addiction struggles:

  • personal trauma histories;
  • familial, community and social factors;
  • lack of access to care and life supports;
  • racism and other forms of systemic othering and exclusion; and
  • very real concerns about the future, ranging from lack of equitable economic opportunity to climate anxiety.

We can also be awake to the healing balm of friendship and inclusion in community; and to proven solutions ranging from ensuring a healthy first 1,000 days of life; to supporting grade level reading; to providing culturally, sensitive affordable access to mental health care and life skills resources (at school, in the workplace or community) to resources for healthy aging, to policy that can pay for this care.

Where there is light, there is a way.

Five years ago, thanks to the bold vision and a generous endowment from Providence, Well Being Trust was founded to advance the mental, social and spiritual health of the nation. Providence made a commitment to address the urgent mental health crisis in our communities via Well Being Trust, with a seed endowment of $100 million and an additional $30 million specifically for investment in California.

In the half decade since, we have not wavered from our goal to save 100,000 lives from deaths by drug overdose, alcohol, and suicide, and to increase equitable well-being for all in America. Hand in hand with our partners, grantees, and frontline workers, we are investing in and sustaining clinical, community and cultural changes that can measurably transform the health of the nation and improve well-being for all. 

Looking Back
Over the past five years, we have served as a catalyst for innovation and a trusted convenor of the brightest minds focused on mental health, addiction, and well-being. We’ve made bold investments in groundbreaking initiatives and partnerships. Indeed, many of the new organizations and alliances that Well Being Trust helped to seed and germinate – now serve as essential scaffolding for the U.S. mental health and well being movement, bringing key services and resources to families, organizations, communities, states and the nation at large. Together, we are shaping mental health and addiction practice, policy and investments; bringing more data and insights to bear; and building the political and community will that is essential to make changes in our democracy.

Here’s a look at some of our key accomplishments since our founding: 

  • In our first year (2017), Well Being Trust invested more than $15.5 million in 36 initiatives and partnerships addressing clinical and community transformation, policy and advocacy, social engagement, and measurement and data systems. This included partnering with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to create the Emergency Department and Upstream learning collaborative of health systems to foster innovative strategies that address the needs of individuals with mental health and substance misuse issues. This year also included the first release of the seminal Pain in the Nation report in partnership with Trust for America’s Health, and co-funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on “deaths of despair” in America to both measure the scope of the problem and point to solutions; now an annually updated resource for advancing the tangible change. 
  • By 2018, we’d invested over $35 million in dozens of communities, organizations, and partnerships that span sectors and partisan divides. We continued to invest in Care, Coverage and Community, including an important effort to influence attitudes about mental well-being among teens and tweens. In partnership with iHeartMedia, BuzzFeed, and Complex, we launched the #BeWell, #BeHeard, #BeThere  campaign to activate youth, and we formalized our National Advisory Council. In 2018, Well Being Trust also brought together organizations and leaders from across sectors to develop a “living agenda for well-being in the nation” of policies and investments that can assure the vital conditions for intergenerational well-being. This network would grow from more than 75 local communities and national organizations to what is now the Well Being in the Nation (WIN) Network. We also worked closely with Providence to co-create and finance the Mental Health/Substance Use Disorder Clinical Performance Group (CPG)—a system-wide learning collaborative dedicated to improving care and delivery, and saving lives. 
  • In 2019, we amplified the Providence CPG’s learnings on how to deliver the highest quality care; improve outcomes for patients and quality of work and life for caregivers; serve as a “blueprint” for other systems and care settings; and deliver a healthy return on investment. We also focused on the development of state and federal mental health and addiction policy strategy and building partnerships for shared action. This culminated in the creation of Healing the Nation, a federal policy agenda and a guide for Congress. In this same year, our Board and National Advisory Council accelerated us on the path the strengthen the U.S. mental health movement. 
  • Throughout 2020, we reflected that, “now more than ever, amidst the wide-scale suffering, pain and loss that has rippled out from the COVID-19 pandemic and associated crises, we must make mental health, well-being and resilience a top priority in America.” Through our investments in the U.S. social movement to support well-being, we found strong existing assets and initiatives with which to join forces. When we identified untapped assets, we partnered to strengthen and grow them. Where we saw clear gaps, we identified the best organizations and co-invested to create new enterprises. From supporting an unprecedented collaboration called The CEO Alliance for Mental Health that aligns and drives change across the mental health field, to mobilizing resources and political will via Inseparable, to bringing more funders to the field via Mindful Philanthropy we’re working with our partners to make a real impact on the mental health system, and we are incredibly proud of our work in the midst of a national crisis.  Additionally, throughout 2020, we worked with CDC Foundation to advance Thriving Together.  And we also expanded investment back into Providence in support of our 120,000 caregivers via No One Cares Alone; enhancing the role and capacities of chaplains; and via expanded offerings of tele-spiritual health.
  • In 2021, we invested further to grow and sustain the “movement infrastructure” we helped build and to support Providence and its caregivers across the protracted experience of COVID-19. In the spirit of continuous learning, we invited stakeholder interviews to further refine the Framework for Excellence in Mental Health and Well-Being and define how it will be used by Well Being Trust, by Providence and, we hope, by the many sectors that impact mental health and well-being in the United States. As part of the evolution of the Framework, we’ve realigned to focus more explicitly on Care, Coverage and Community as pillars of well-being, and to show them in a more interconnected, less linear framework. Critically, equity is now explicitly part of every aspect of the Framework. You’ll learn more about this in our upcoming 2021 annual report!

Looking Forward
As we move into our next five years, operating with the open-hearted steadfastness of our Foundresses, we remain in service to our mission, vision, values and overarching goals: to save 100,000 lives from deaths by drug overdose, alcohol, and increase equitable well -being for all in America. 

Even as we double-down with investment in our trusted partners across sectors, the portfolio of organizations we have helped build over the years, and also back into Providence for caregiver well- being and innovation – 2022 will be a year of reflection and exploration. This process is already underway – with deep and inclusive listening to leaders across a field of fields; an immersive Discovery Summit; engaging our Board and National Advisory Council; and with partners to crystallize around our shared north star. 

We will also continue to ground our work in the Framework for Excellence in Mental Health and Well-Being, a guide for changemakers at every level of society who seek to improve mental health outcomes and promote well-being for millions of Americans. The framework provides a roadmap for making a comprehensive impact on Care, Coverage and Community, and will ultimately help us save lives and improve well-being at a population level. 

We will deepen our investments in spreading Community Initiated Care, a Well Being Trust initiative, to scale and spread mental health and well-being skills and capacities across America’s communities. Our allies in this work are in settings such as barber shops and beauty salons, YMCAs, houses of worship, daycare centers, housing developments and schools. Deep in these communities, we want to create caring spaces where stigma has no home, and where every one of us can become a first responder, for and with each other, in sacred mutuality.

We will continue to engage with all our national and Providence stakeholders to ensure our way forward is informed by the realities and the growing evidence base of what works.  As we continue to chart our course forward, we invite your ideas about our work, your work, and a collective path forward to well-being for all in the U.S.  Contact us with your thoughts at info@wellbeingtrust.org

I end this lengthy message with gratitude for the foresight and generosity of Providence and its Sponsors, for our governing Board of Directors, National Advisory Council, trusted partners and grantees, and the Well Being Trust staff. Including our new president, Dr. Benjamin Miller.  Without this dedicated group, the last five years would have been impossible.

As we look back on the last five years, let us pause only briefly to celebrate what we’ve accomplished together – even as we redouble our commitment to be and do all we can in the time ahead.

In spirited partnership,

Tyler Norris, MDiv

CEO, Well Being Trust