Mental health impacts us all

Health, Wellness & Recreation

Understanding philanthropy’s role in supporting mental health and substance use addictions.

“Doors to nowhere.” That’s how the current state of mental health (MH) and substance use addictions (SUA) services in Winnipeg is described by stakeholders, including charitable sector leaders.

Earlier this year, The Foundation convened a focus group of charitable sector leaders to discuss the MH and SUA services in Winnipeg, and the role philanthropy can play.

A common sentiment shared is the mental health system is severely fragmented resulting in gaps in services, lack of treatment options, and long waitlists. Existing treatment programs and services are designed for alcohol abuse and are ineffective in dealing with opioids or the growing meth crisis.

Organizations are saying that increasingly the pressing issue for front-line workers is responding to the unpredictability and psychosis associated with meth use, which has put staff and other clients in harm’s way. In response, The Foundation made available through its Professional Development Grants, an additional $50,000 for frontline workers to access de-escalation training.

Since that focus group convened, The Foundation has conducted additional interviews with the executives at Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, Klinic, NorWest Community Health, and the Manitoba government’s Mental Health and Addictions Branch within the Department of Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living. The Foundation has learned more about the system generally, as well as gaps in service and the role of the charitable sector in the VIRGO report, which is a blueprint to improve Manitoba’s health and addiction services.

Released a year ago, VIRGO indicates Manitoba stands out as the highest or very high on almost all the MH/SUA needs indicators, including those related to health, social, and justice related factors. According to the report, the needs are complex and require a “whole-system, multi sectoral response”.

Within such a complex system and with such high needs, what meaningful role can philanthropy play?

The Foundation believes philanthropy can play a role in systems change and advocacy, it can act as a catalyst, and it can fund programs, evaluations, research, capital renovations and infrastructure projects. During the past three years, The Foundation’s support in this area through the Community Grants program was approximately $2.8 million. On the horizon are additional capital requests, and other options.

We look forward to continuing to work with stakeholders to further determine what this support might look like, and will share information as it is available.

To make a gift in support of Health, Wellness and Recreation programing through The Winnipeg Foundation, go to

This story is featured in the Summer 2019 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.

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