Bridging the Gaps: Strengthening Mental Health Support for Children and Young people

12 noon BST Wednesday 1st May 2019
12 noon BST on Friday 28th June 2019

Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria, United Kingdom or Zambia

Funding is available for a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 5 years. We will fund investments from £150k up to £700k

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Bridging the gaps Webinar

This is a recorded webinar that we held about Bridging the Gaps with information on scale and repayable finance and why this is an interest area for us. It was also an opportunity to answer questions from applicants.


We are seeking proposals from those working on providing mental health support to children and young people at an early stage so that they are aware of their mental health and can build resilience as they grow and develop. 

We would like to fund proposals that are particularly focusing on vulnerable children and young people from groups underserved by current services, because we believe that services should be inclusive and support those most in need. We are particularly interested in (and will prioritise funding for) proposals that place partnership working at the heart of the bid. 

Proposals should be working on two or more of the following areas: 

  • tackling stigma and discrimination,
  • increasing access to quality service provision,
  • strategic / systemic changes at local and/or national level


Our vision is a world where good mental health is a human right, and services are available to all where-ever and whenever people need them. We want mental health to be taken as seriously as physical health and believe that quality human-centred/user centred services should be available to all. 

Mental health issues are common and affect one in ten people at any time, in any place.1 At least one in four of us will be affected by a mental illness over our lifetime.2 This is the leading cause of ill-health and disability worldwide3, however many people struggle to get the support they need to recover from and manage their mental health. 

In the UK, 50% of mental health problems in adults begin before the age of fourteen.4 Three quarters of all mental health disorders in adults start before the age of 24.5 If support is given early there is a good chance that people will recover from mental health problems, and manage their mental health going forward.

Internationally, in lower middle-income and low-income countries, there is less information available on the prevalence figures for young people who are experiencing or at risk of mental health problems, however, with a fast growing youth populations and with less formal provision of mental health care, we recognise that there is an enormous challenge. 3 out of 4 people with mental health issues live in lower-middle income countries.6 

We recognise that young people who are vulnerable or marginalised are more likely to develop mental health issues and are less likely to get the support they need. Often this leads to further isolation which in turn contributes to a greater deterioration in their mental health. We also recognise that poverty increases the likelihood of developing a mental health problem.7

We have taken the WHO definition of mental health: a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to her or his community. Broadly, our funding is also aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 3: ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. We acknowledge our ambition as to the areas of change we want to see, but we believe that if organisations work together significant steps can be taken toward achieving this goal. 

Find out more about our work around mental health here.


This funding opportunity aims to support vulnerable children and young people from underserved groups within the following age ranges:

  • 5 to 24 years in the UK
  • 5 to 30 years in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia (we are applying a later age limited in these countries than the UK to take into consideration the different age definitions for young people, and the engagement of young people in education at an older age in these countries)

This will mean that children and young people are supported at an early age and through critical stages of their development and growth and will also help to prevent severe mental health problems later in life.

We are defining under-served groups as a group that is (or can) be marginalised and unable to access mental health services. This is not a definitive list but some examples of the groups we are seeking to support can include:

  • Socio-economically disadvantaged people of any ethnicity;  
  • Marginalised ethnic groups (in the UK referred to as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME));
  • Children and young people who have a parent with mental health problems;
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ+);
  • Children and young people living with HIV or other long term and life limiting illnesses;
  • Children and young people with disabilities, including learning disabilities;
  • Refugees and asylum-seeking children and young people;
  • Children and young people affected by traumatic experiences such as violence, abuse and neglect; and
  • Young offenders and young people who are not in education, employment or training. 

We believe that the presence of the above factors will mean that these children and young people are more at risk of developing mental health issues. 


Globally these are the issues we want to address with our funding:

  • High levels of stigma and discrimination prevent children, young people and/or their families from speaking out and seeking support. They may be afraid to speak up for fear of being rejected, stigmatised and/or ostracised. In particularly challenging contexts children and young people could be at risk of being persecuted, housed in mental health institutions, shackled or chained up; 
  • There are too few services available to meet the needs of people experiencing mental health problems, and awareness of availability is low. The treatment gap in high income countries is around 50% and this rises to as high as 90% in some lower-middle income countries, which is home to over 80% of the global population8
  • In lower-middle income countries we know the quality of available treatment can fall below acceptable standards. In the UK, quality services are available, however people may be unable to get support due to long waiting lists; 
  • Many of the services that exist focus on short term interventions, with less focus on early intervention, building resilience and longer-term support; 
  • There is a gap in support for parents and family members with children and young people at experiencing or at risk of mental health issues; 
  • There is a gap in mental health legislation and policy. We also recognise existing policies and mental health legislation need to be appropriate, properly funded, adequately implemented, refreshed, and made available in traditional settings, with input from people and organisations who have experience of mental health


Your application should clearly demonstrate the needs of the groups they seek to support and the barriers these groups face in accessing services.

Proposals should also demonstrate working in two or more of the following areas:

  • tackling stigma and discrimination
  • increasing access to quality service provision 
  • strategic / systemic changes at local and/or national level

A strong application will demonstrate several of the following areas:  

  • How you will address one or more of the challenges highlighted in The gaps we want to address’ section; 
  • A rights-based approach as mental health is a fundamental human right for all. This includes how the proposal has been designed in consultation with people with experience of mental health issues and representative groups; 
  • An in-depth understanding of the children and young people you will be working with as well as the barriers they face to accessing support and the reasons for this; 
  • A good understanding of the context in which you work. This should include: the policy, legislation, economic situation of the community you are working in; the mental health resources and services available; and the need to link with existing community, religious leaders and healers (who we recognise can play an important role in raising awareness, breaking down barriers, challenge misconceptions and increasing access to support);   
  • How the proposed interventions are tailored to the local context and the proposal’s target groups. There should be a nuanced approach for the different age groups supported;  
  • We welcome tried and tested as well as innovative approaches, but want to understand why the approach was chosen, and how impact will be understood; 
  • How potential risks around safety of staff and service users have been considered and incorporated within the project design or the organisations ways of working; 
  • How mental health support can be sustained beyond the life of the funding. This does not have to be a fully formed sustainability plan, but some consideration of this should be apparent throughout the process; and
  • For core cost proposals the organisation’s main purpose should be working to address one or more ‘the gaps we want to address’ section with a targeted focus on children and young people. These proposals must demonstrate how the organisation is already (or will be) working with other agencies to meet the requirements of the funding opportunity. 


Throughout the assessment process we will prioritise the funding of partners that have a genuine interest in collaboration for improved service delivery.

When you apply to us for funding you will need to submit a budget with a breakdown of funding allocated to each partner. We expect all partners to have an allocation in the budget however please note:

  • If the partner is a government service: the budget proposal should not include any allocation to the government agency (however their involvement should be clear throughout the process). For more information please review our policies about funding government services.  
  • If the partner is a private provider: the proposal should demonstrate the work will ultimately result in public good and that no private profit will be sought.

We want to hear from a range of organisations working on mental health including:

  • Community Based Organisations (CBOs); and
  • User-led organisations: we recognise the difficulties user-led organisations are facing and want to encourage applications from these organisations. We know that our income threshold policy may prevent these organisations from applying but urge organisations to consider working in partnership with others to submit a bid, as we will be prioritising applications from these user-led groups. Please ensure you clearly state that your organisation is user-led in the application form; and
  • Faith-based organisations: we know that in many of the countries we are funding there are strong religious convictions, and that these organisations provide valuable support around mental health issues. We want to hear from agencies who are using appropriate interventions to support those in need and are in line with our policies; and 
  • Non-governmental organisations working on issues like education, HIV/AIDS, in health settings and in the criminal justice system; and 
  • We acknowledge, where appropriate, schools, universities, criminal justice services, local authorities and other local service providers should be included and involved in the work (but please note we do not fund government agencies). 

Where UK based INGO’s are teaming up with country-based agencies to deliver mental health support we want to see what added value the INGO brings to the proposal, and where possible the local organisation to lead in the bid. 

All other organisations not listed here are welcome to apply if they fit within our eligibility criteria and activities fit within our policies.


We see real value in peers who are working on similar approaches, target groups, contexts and challenges coming together to learn from each other. We want to work with groups who are interested in shared learning, and we will seek to support shared learning and collaboration across the groups we fund and others where appropriate, practical and valuable. 

We seek to work with organisations that share our commitment to learning – it is central to much of what we do at Comic Relief. For that reason, we invest in organisations that can:

  • Be self-reflective; considering which aspects of project delivery are working well, which aspects are less successful and why. 
  • Feed learning back into service delivery, with a desire for continual improvement.
  • Respond to changing contexts and emerging needs – the issues you are dealing with may change over time and your work may need to respond to that.
  • Share learning externally, to support wider learning and coordination in the sector.

Mental Health Collective

As part of Comic Relief’s commitment to listening to diverse voices and experiences we have recruited 9 people to inform discussions around funding priorities, provide objective insights on proposals, make key decisions around funding proposals and learning priorities, and provide feedback on Comic Relief processes.


We will consider supporting the following approaches as part of this funding opportunity. However, please note that they do not have to be included in your project:

  • We welcome a range of creative approaches including arts, music, theatre etc.; 
  • We welcome Social Tech projects, for more information please check this link
  • We would like to hear from organisations who are considering taking on repayable finance approach to sustain their work; and 
  • We are interested in projects that fit our criteria set out in this document, are already working in this collaborative way and are ready to scale their work.


Income requirements and funding limits:

  • We will fund no more than 40% of your organisation’s total income in any one year. For partnership bids we will only be reviewing the income from the lead partner; 
  • For organisations who have an income that falls below the minimum requirement we would strongly encourage you to partner with an organisation that does reach this minimum income requirement; 
  • Applications can be made by organisations with an annual income level not exceeding £10m GBP, as stated in their last set of accounts submitted to the relevant authority.  In the UK organisations will need to have a minimum annual income of £250,000. Outside the UK, the minimum annual income is £75,000. 

Partnership and organisation requirements:

  • Proposals can be made by single applicants; however, partnership proposals will be prioritised.
  • You are welcome to include collaborations with government organisations (noting we will not fund government agencies).
  • While we encourage religious organisations to work in partnership with other agencies to deliver mental health support, we will not fund activities which evangelise (the practice of preaching or spreading religious beliefs) or proselytise (the practice of trying to convert people to one’s own belief or religious views).

How many proposals you can apply for:

  • To give as many organisations as fair a chance as possible, organisations can only submit one proposal (though they can be named as partners on any number of applications). Please be aware we will never read more than one proposal per organisation. 
  • This Bridging the Gap funding programme is being launched along with Ahead of the Game: Sport and Mental Health. Both funding opportunities are opening at the same time and are focused on supporting people who are experiencing mental health issues. Organisations will need to choose which funding opportunity best fit their projects. Please note, we will not be considering applications to both funding opportunities from the same organisation, even if they are for different areas of work. 

Available funding:

  • Funding is available for a mimimum of 3 to a maximum of 5 years. We will not be considering proposal that are for projects below 3 years of funding; and
  • We will fund investments between £150,000 up to £700,000. Any requests for funding out of this range will not be considered. 

Types of work:

  • Funding can be used to cover specific project activities, or a combination of activities and organisational core costs or overheads. We understand the difficulties organisations encounter in securing core running costs and we are happy for organisations to include full cost recovery; and  
  • We are interested in both existing work and in piloting new approaches and partnerships. For proposals that undertake a new approach, you should please consider how you will document the success of the work and how you will learn from the work and detail this. 

Where we will fund:

  • Projects must be delivered in: Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria, United Kingdom or Zambia

Download the Stage 1 proposal guidance here and programme FAQs here


Please note there is a two-stage application process:

  • The deadline for first stage applications will be 12 noon BST on Friday 28th June 2019.  Please note that applications received after this time will not be considered. 
  • If your application is shortlisted you will be given a further 3 weeks to submit a full proposal, and the Stage 2 deadline will be 12 noon BST on Friday 13th September 2019
  • Stage 2 proposals will then be shortlisted for a full assessment (and we will provide shortlisted proposals with further details of what this means). 
  • Once assessments are completed, the funding decisions will be made by the Comic Relief Trustees by the end of January 2020.



 2. Lion’s Head, global partners (2008).  Financing Global Mental Health (2018)



 5. Clarke, T., Mobbs, D. (2019). A Better Future Together, the report of the Norfolk ad Waveney children and young people’s mental health commission



 8. Lion’s Head, global partners (2008).  Financing Global Mental Health (2018)