Grants for GRIT in the time of COVID-19

photo of a large stack of papers

By: Brooks Robinson, Ph.D.

"An article about grants? Skip!” Most people I know see grants as boring, tedious, and sometimes downright excruciating. But that is not always the case, and if you stick with me, I'll tell you about excitement, innovation, and yes, frustration while writing grants to support the Greater Resilience Information Toolkit (GRIT) training program.

I joined the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience as Program Director - Grants Specialist in late January 2020. About a month into the new job, the country was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Innovative scientists and clinicians within the Institute rapidly developed and deployed the GRIT community-based resilience training. This virtual training was (and still is!) offered at no cost to the public. Considering GRIT teaches skills and concepts that can be applied by anyone within any community, GRIT truly has the potential for an immense positive impact on mental health in the Colorado Springs community, across the country, and even around the world.

Individuals who took the training agreed. Soon there were calls for tailored and expanded GRIT trainings for groups severely impacted by COVID-19 - educators, healthcare workers, caretakers, first responders, small business owners, etc. This was fantastic! But at the same time, it quickly dawned on the team that help was needed, both in terms of manpower and financial resources. Cue the Grants Specialist!

Now to take a step back, I am a neuroscientist by training and have spent my entire career researching the brain, its incredible functions, and equally devastating dysfunctions. I place mental health among the highest priority issues. Period.

So, we have a great product, immense impact potential, and many groups and foundations across the country mobilizing funds in support of COVID-19 causes. Slam dunk! The grant team and the entire Institute were excited to expand and strengthen the GRIT network, and thereby build human resilience. We started writing grants almost immediately. The first funding requests were for a license to provide SilverCloud digital mental health modules for stress, resilience-building, and sleep. Going along with this, a request to fund GRIT trainings, a GRIT program targeted to military families, and GRIT trainings tailored for community leaders and business were also targeted. In rapid succession, the proposals were not funded. We were surprised, but not deterred. The work continued anyway, GRIT grew, and more grant proposals were prepared over the summer.

My favorite proposal was for a “GRIT Hub” and a mobile GRIT unit. The idea was that some communities in Colorado Springs, many of which were feeling the worst effects of the pandemic physically, mentally, and financially, may not have the technological resources to take advantage of GRIT, or were just not aware of it. We proposed to set up a GRIT Hub in a community center where individuals could access computers to take the GRIT trainings. They would also have access to Institute personnel and other GRIT leaders for support. Additionally, a van with iPads would be mobilized to different locations throughout the city to spread the word about GRIT and bring the trainings to different communities. The project design was a great collaboration between the grant team, GRIT developers, and institute researchers and clinicians. It was a large, ambitious project and everyone was hoping the grant submitted for the Colorado Springs CARES Act would be funded. Alas, it was not to be. An additional proposal for the development of GRIT for caregivers was also not selected for funding around the same time.

Fortunately, two proposals were funded over the summer. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment funded the development of a training tailored for healthcare workers called GRIT-4Health and El Paso County Public Health (EPCPH) funded a collaboration termed the El Paso County Method. This project brought together the local chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), AspenPointe Mental and Behavioral Healthcare, EPCPH, and the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience to develop a proactive and sustainable mental health crisis response. In another innovative initiative, the El Paso County Method de-silosed these organizations to create not only a local network of mental health support for the current crisis, but also in preparation for all future crises. This initiative, which includes GRIT, aims to build community resilience and to become less reliant on reactionary and temporary crisis responses such as that provided by FEMA.

Two more unsuccessful proposals followed these up including a proposal for a GRIT mobile app, which could immensely help the propagation of GRIT and allow for easy updates and ongoing trainings.

Being frustrated after each of the many unsuccessful proposals, I went back and researched the proposals that were funded. Unsurprisingly, groups and programs offering "immediate needs” such as food, housing, and job assistance were the overwhelming recipients of funding. And who can begrudge the funders for supporting these crucial needs? But as I mentioned before, I am vehement on the importance of mental health, so I was nonetheless frustrated. So now, I want to take a moment to plug mental health and wellness as an issue that needs to be addressed with immediacy. Rates for anxiety, depression, grief, and substance abuse have all skyrocketed in the United States since the onset of the pandemic. This mental health crisis is compounded by reduced social support, disrupted and altered mental healthcare services, and financial hardship. Furthermore, mental illness is not an issue that will magically go away once COVID-19 is tamed. Millions of individuals across the globe will be struggling to recover for years to come. A further spike in suicides, drug-related deaths, and severe mental illness would be debilitating in a time when recovery is needed. Therefore, an effective and readily dispersible method for coping with current stressors and building resilience against those in the future is urgently needed. This is precisely why GRIT is so exciting and why the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience will continue to innovate, distribute GRIT as widely as possible, and yes, doggedly search for funding that facilitates increased impact.

Tags: Newsletter April 2021Past Digital Newsletters