3 things I've learned after foolishly deciding to start a therapy fund a year ago
Happy World Mental Health Day, fellow dads
This one’s coming in hot, the first Tuesday deadline I’ve hit in months. Suffering from an influx of typos? Blame World Mental Health Day for not happening on a Thursday. *shakes fist at World Health Organization*
The idea came to us over lunch.
A close friend was in Barcelona for a few days. He wanted a new location to conduct some fresh thinking for his company. I proposed a brain trust—he could share his problems, I could come back with some of my own. After polishing off a menu del dia and having—hopefully, if memory serves me correctly—solved a pressing issue for him, I shared something on my mind.
We’d met working for an ad agency years ago and had front-row seats during the “purposeful brand movement.” The world was starting to learn the beliefs and values of companies like Patagonia, which Yvon Chouinard codified in Let My People Go Surfing. But those genuine waves of purpose had transformed into a bullshit tsunami, reaching its peak when Pepsi paid
Kylie Kendall Jenner to end police brutality. (They fixed it, didn’t they?)1
“People used to laugh at ads,” Nick Ashbury offered whilst dissecting the corpse of purpose-led brands in his The Road to Hell series. “Now they laugh at ad agencies.”
I once worked on an ad campaign for a major UK bank. They wanted to tell the world about their £1 million donation pot that was going to fund community projects nationwide. The media budget to tell UK residents they were doing this? Three million quid. I wish that were an anomaly, but talk to anyone in the industry and you’ll realise it’s one story amongst many. How could someone legitimately have an impact—and not just posture, telling the world you were? Donating a percentage of earnings to charity would be the easiest way. But whilst there are great charities helping folks with their mental health—organisations like Mind, CALM and The Samaritans come to mind—there didn’t seem to be anyone focusing on helping men, specifically dads. With my own experience of how mental health can take a nosedive after having kids, I felt I could do more.
“Have you heard of direct giving?” my friend suggested. “You take the 10-20% you would have given to a charity, find people who need it, then give it to them directly—cutting out anyone in the middle.” The New York Times were there to help anyone wondering How to Get Your Money to Those Who Need It More Than You:
"The elusiveness of perfect solutions has inspired a variety of social entrepreneurs to pursue various forms of direct giving. If you’ve sent money via DonorsChoose to help a teacher pay for a classroom project, you get the basic idea: Give a little money, know exactly where it’s going, have some sense of who’s getting it and have someone between you and the recipient to provide at least some verification. The goal is to provide a charitable option that lives somewhere between handing money over to a large, faceless nonprofit group and just Venmoing people who say on Twitter that they need help.”
Hmmmm, that might work. I’d spent two years reading emails from dads going through the same thing I’d gone through. I was able to find help fast—but knew others who could not. I’d heard from dads waiting more than a year to see a therapist. I could take one month of the newsletter proceeds and give it to dads who needed it.
It would be simple enough, right?
Oh, 2022 Kevin. How foolish you were.
Three few things I’ve learned (which could be a list of twenty, but I want to get this out on World Health Day)
#1. Raising money was the easiest part (duh)
With hindsight, I should have known this one. One core tenet of TNF has always been how hard it is for men to ask for help. ”Why is no one helping me?” I wondered in the second issue of this newsletter, when a few hundred of you were reading it. I realised a year later it was because I wasn’t asking for it.
I shared a link asking anyone who wanted to access the fund to complete a form. But I didn’t realise I was asking them to do two very difficult things at the same time: asking for mental health support, and the necessary financial aid to get it. Just one of those would be an insurmountable barrier for most. But two? Well, it’s no wonder it took months to get the first “application,” and that the number of folks reaching out still hasn’t cracked twenty. Some of those have been dads doing it themselves. Others have been loved ones getting in touch. Another issue has arisen from the occasional requests from a wife enquiring on behalf of a struggling husband who doesn’t yet see the benefits of working with a therapist. That’s a tougher nut to crack—the proverbial horse being led to water comes to mind. Filing that one away as a “year two problem.”
But even when the dads were willing, it still wasn’t easy …
#2. The US medical system is complicated (again, duh)
I built up a good group of therapists and counsellors—in the US, the UK, Europe, and hopefully another coming onboard soon to cover Australia and that neck of the woods. You’d think that once you have a dad and a therapist who click and are in roughly the same timezone—that’s it, right? WRONG AGAIN. Welcome to the litigious world of American healthcare—where therapists outside the US can’t get insurance to cover working with US-based clients. And inside the US? Well, therapists can only practice in their own state. That would mean bringing on 50 different therapists. Hooray for PSYPACT, “an interstate compact designed to facilitate the practice of telepsychology and the temporary in-person, face-to-face practice of psychology across state boundaries.”
In plain English? If you practice in one of the 38 participating states you can practice via Zoom in the rest. That means we’ve now got coverage for most of the English-speaking world. But it doesn’t cover everywhere. H was one of the first dads to get in touch in April. (I told you it took a while to get started.) Because he was based in New York, I’ve still been unable to help him all these months later. This irks me more than you can possibly know. (If you live in New York, California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania or Oregon, and have a therapist or counsellor you recommend, please get in touch. We’ve got a handful of dads still waiting to get paired with therapists in these states.)
#3. There’s a lot of admin involved (see a pattern here?)
“Why don’t you make this charity?” more than one of you have suggested. “You could qualify for Gift Aid! Company donation matching! So much more!”
Have you ever started a charity or foundation? Me neither. But to be honest, I’ve come closer than most. I haven’t written much here about my part-time role (another part of the portfolio) as CMO / CTO of The Good Life Orphanage, a charity my parents founded 15 years ago that donates 100% of its proceeds to house and educate hundreds of children in Mombasa, Kenya. I’ve been intimately involved over the years—building websites, writing copy, reducing the friction of donating through integrating Apple Pay, helping my mum move her newsletter over to Substack when she hit the 500-user freemium limit on Mailchimp. You know, those kinda things.
I have seen the sheer amount of admin in running a charity first-hand. And I foolishly believed I could circumvent most of this by officially avoiding making this a charity. Big mistake. Oh, the admin. Once again, for those in the back: OH. THE ADMIN! I don’t like email and still bear the scars of too many late nights and weekends spent starting at GMail through in a state of despair. I wish I were better, but I will always struggle with it. I recently started working with Amy who is helping me remove myself as a bottleneck. Now that our therapists are in place, we can streamline getting dads connected with the right person and ensure everyone gets paid on time. But I want to apologise to any dad who ended up waiting longer than they had hoped. With all the PSYPACT nonsense, it wasn’t always my fault. But sometimes, it absolutely was.
Wrapping up (and how you can help)
The big learning from this should be, “Don’t just say you are going to do something without first realising how fucking complicated it is going to be.” But that’s the easy way out. If I hadn’t started this a year ago, I wouldn’t have been forced to assemble the parachute on the way down.
Is this another thing on my plate? Yes.
Is it worth it? Of that, I am sure.
Don’t just take it from me. Here are two dads I successfully badgered into telling you:
"I am so grateful to the New Fatherhood for this initiative. I was struggling with anxiety as a father of two, and The New Fatherhood sourced a great therapist for me that offered a safe space for healing without the stress of additional financial pressure. I would encourage any dad who is struggling with mental health issues to get in touch.”
“As a dad who found himself struggling with a horrendous situation, the therapy I received enabled me to take a step back from problems and give some time to myself. To be able to talk openly to a professional about my feelings, issues and current difficulties helped relieve some of the pressure I am under and allowed me to understand why I’m feeling how I am, and what steps I can take to help myself. It’s a massive weight off my shoulders sharing my experiences which ultimately helps me be the best dad I can be.”
This year we’re off to a good head start. After the Substack and Stripe fees, the newsletter is projected to bring in $1,450 this month. Added onto that is the profit from Good Dads Club: $2,600 from Far Afield (who did the heavy lifting on this) and an additional $300 from Form SE15, a clothing store in Peckham that stocked the product and donated their profits to the fund too. (Sidenote: If anyone has a connect with John Lewis’ marketing or PR teams, please shout! They sold a fair few Good Dads Club t-shirts, and I’m sure they’d be happy to donate their profits if they knew what we were doing with them.)
So, one year later, we’re already starting with $4,350 in the kitty—three whole dads more than we were able to help last year. And honestly, if you’ll allow me to be overly sincere for a moment, none of this would be possible without you. For those folks whose annual subscription renews this month, you’ll donate your entire fee to the fund for another year. There were folks last year who covered the cost of one hour of therapy and some generous benefactors who covered five sessions for a dad. And yes,those two links still work, and will ensure that your donation doesn’t get hit with a 10% Substack tax ;)
If you’d like to contribute to the Therapy Fund you can do so by becoming a paid subscriber. Anyone who signs up this month will have their entire subscription fee go towards helping a dad in need (one annual subscription is equal to one hour of therapy, more or less.)
Finally, if you feel that you—or someone you love—might benefit from the support you can find out how to access the fund here.
A bumper issue of tweets on mental health, sourced from the platform that has done so much damage to ours:
To any dad who struggled today—I see you. Everything I’ve written—and will carry on writing—about mental health will always be available at this mental health checkpoint. Keep going.
Branding by Selman Design. Illustration by Tony Johnson. Survey by Sprig. As always, if you’d like a subscription but can’t cover the cost, email me and I’ll get ‘er done. World Mental Health Day was brought to you by the letters D, S and M, the number 5, and the interrobang?!
A tiny mental health footnote that I can only put at the bottom for reasons that will soon become apparent.
Today was busy around here—I feel like I’m working for the WHO PR team.
Earlier this year we tried something out in the community: we ran a handful of men’s circles where dads could come together to share anything on their mind. To do this right, I reached out to others who’ve done something similar (in person) and got some great learnings. Then I did a lot of research, and we went forward with small groups, a soft set of ground rules, and a lot of truth.
As the nights draw in—and folks start the annual machinations of wondering whether it’s seasonal affective disorder or something worse—I’m going to start the circles again. For any dads interested, these things tend to be announced and discussed in our Geneva community. For paid subscribers who don’t want to download another app, I’ll share the link where you can find out more after this brief paywall moment: