How to Invest in Mental Health
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Wikipedia states that the purpose of this month’s designation is the education and the raising of awareness about mental illnesses. If you know me, you know how important this cause is to me. You might even know my brother, Jake Orlowitz, who wrote the book, Welcome to The Circle, chronicling his own and others’ struggles with mental illness. We are all affected by mental illness, whether it is us or someone we know who is suffering. While we have made great progress in ending the stigma and seeking solutions, we have a long way to go. In this post, I will share a few ways that we can support mental health through our investments.
We can invest in companies who are supporting their employees’ welfare and serving society
Even before the pandemic, the National Institute of Mental Health found that more than 20% of adults in the United States reported experiencing at least one mental health issue. Of those, only about 45% received care. The stigma surrounding mental health has historically kept it out of the spotlight in the workplace. Yet poor mental health can disrupt productivity as well as harm performance, engagement, and communications, according to the CDC.
Companies are beginning to understand that they have to provide mental health support for their employees. Recently, Verizon Media along with Kellogg Company, Snap and Spotify announced the formation of Mind Together, a coalition of brands working to address mental health and set a new standard in how employees are supported at work. The goal of Mind Together is to destigmatize mental health at work through education, awareness campaigns, and expert led sessions. Over the next year, this coalition will meet to develop a blueprint for leaders on supporting mental health in the workplace from the top down. Hopefully, efforts like these will also align with the health benefits and compensation that are provided to employees.
Impact investors can look at how ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) criteria can be used to account for employers’ efforts to support mental health in the workplace. From an impact investing perspective, the emphasis on mental health seeks to manage not only the risks that mental illness poses to companies, investors, and individuals, but also the opportunity for innovation. Investors can support mental health by investing in companies that have strong ESG ratings. The “S” will be particularly important, as the social criteria include things like employee/employer ratings, employee benefits, and community outreach. You can use tools like As You Sow’s Invest Your Values tool and the USSIF’s database to find funds that are incorporating criteria like this into their investment policies. In GIVE’s Impact Investing Course, we highlight how to use these tools, but please let us know if you have more questions. The UK Investment firm CCLA is also in the process of creating a mental health benchmark which will provide a view on how listed companies approach and manage employee wellbeing and also give the investment sector an opportunity to engage and drive businesses towards positive change on an important subject with benefits across society.
We can also invest in companies that are providing solutions to mental illness. Putnam Investment’s report, "Mental Health: Insights and Investment Implications," highlights investment trends including the recent FDA approval of novel pharmaceutical and digital therapies for treating common mental illness, digital tools and telemedicine platforms. The Domini Sustainable Solutions Fund (CAREX) invests in companies like Teledoc Health and Emergent Biosolutions. Teledoc Health offers access to licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers who can meet your unique needs and Emergent Biosolutions is working to develop a treatment for opioid abuse.
As well as investing at home, there are opportunities in the global markets. In many of the developing countries, employee welfare is still overlooked, and as investors we can advocate on behalf of those individuals by investing in funds like Calvert’s Emerging Market’s Fund (CVMAX). The fund also invests in companies like Alibaba Health which launched a “psychological assistance hotline” for medical staff and patients, aimed at easing the social and psychological stress caused by COVID19, and co-launched the “Internet assistance for mental health.”
There is also an opportunity for investment in the private markets where the amount invested in mental health start-ups was a record $1.37 billion, including apps and platforms like Headspace and Calm.
We can use financial institutions, and fixed income investments that are supporting communities
We can choose to use financial institutions like banks and credit unions who are serving their communities and society. COVID19 has impacted the economic wellbeing of millions which will compound mental illness due to financial stress. Vulnerable and low-income groups have been greatly affected which will continue to be a step back from closing the gap to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Equitable distribution of resources and opportunities is not only a question of mental health but also of social justice. So many families were already living paycheck to paycheck, they may have incurred further debt or healthcare expenses during the pandemic, and they need help. The ability to access financial information and resources like access to capital will be critical going forward.
We can also use bond funds like Community Capital Management’s, Community Impact Bond Fund (CRATX) that invests in organizations like Germaine Harbor which is an affordable housing property for seniors and people with disabilities in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania (Allegheny County) where all 39 residential units receive Section 8 assistance. They also have a variety of programs to meet the residents’ physical, social, spiritual, and psychological needs. Similarly, there are promissory notes like Calvert Impact’s and Capital Impact Partner’s which make loans to community health centers and other organizations (see here).
We can invest in the fight against climate change
As we face more frequent and more severe weather events, climate change will continue to uproot families from their homes, livelihoods, and schools. Children are at the greatest risk as these disruptions can negatively affect development. Severe climate events often lead to forced migration, which can also affect children’s wellbeing if they don’t have adequate resources to help them adapt to the local environment and community. Droughts and floods can also destroy crops and water systems, leading to both mental and physical health disorders. Of course, children are not the only ones who suffer, but they are one of the most vulnerable groups and they are also the future.
As impact investing has grown, so has the number of sustainable investments. The Pax Global Environmental Markets Fund (PGRNX) is a climate change solutions fund that invests in new energy, water, waste and resource recovery, and sustainable food, agriculture and forestry. Another option is the TIAA-CREF Green Bond Fund (TGROX) which invests in bonds whose proceeds target positive outcomes via renewable energy, climate change, and natural resource projects and initiatives. Lastly, we can use tools like Fossil Fuel Free Funds, to ensure we aren’t invested in fossil fuel companies.
What I love most about impact investing is that it provides solutions. We don’t have to look away or feel helpless. We have tools that we can use to create change. I founded GIVE to provide products and services that would teach anyone how to manage their money and make a difference. GIVE offers a soon to be published book, online courses, consulting, and sustainable products that make a donation with purchase. By offering products at different price points, GIVE hopes to make this information accessible to everyone and if someone cannot afford to make a purchase, GIVE will provide it to them free of charge.
 https://www.theimpactivate.com/mental-health-and-employee-welfare-an-emerging-esg-concern/  https://www.verizon.com/about/news/verizon-media-kellogg-company-snap-and-spotify  https://www.pionline.com/economy/employers-benefit-assisting-mental-health-putnam  https://investors.emergentbiosolutions.com/news-releases/news-release-details/emergent-biosolutions-receives-nih-research-grant-further  https://doc.irasia.com/listco/hk/alihealth/annual/2020/ar2020.pdf  https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/global-wellness-institute-blog/2020/11/17/employer-spend-will-keep-mental-health-wellness-investment-humming/  https://www.avantfaireim.com/climate-change-mental-health-2/