$10 million grant sparks new era for Depression Center at CU Anschutz
AURORA: One of the nation’s premier research and clinical centers for mood and anxiety disorders will be immeasurably bolstered by a $10 million grant from the Denver-based Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation, one of the largest program gifts in the history of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
This Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation commitment builds an endowment that will provide stable and perpetual funding ($400,000 the first year, likely more in later years) to support a broad array of mental-health program priorities. To honor this gift, the CU Board of Regents voted Friday to rename the seven-year-old center the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center.
“The Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation has created new possibilities for the University of Colorado to provide mental health services and conduct critical research in our state and beyond,” said Bruce Benson, president of the University of Colorado. “CU has had a relationship with the Johnson Foundation since 1979 and we cannot thank them enough for recognizing and increasing the potential for the Depression Center to support a better quality of life for the citizens and communities CU serves.”
The Depression Center at CU Anschutz is at the forefront of increased national recognition of mental health as a major concern for individuals, families and communities. More than 1,000 Coloradans commit suicide each year, and the World Health Organization asserts that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting 350 million people.
Yet the severe impact of depression (which a recent Journal of Clinical Psychiatry study asserted costs the U.S. economy more than $210 billion a year) has been under-recognized due to historical stigma and incomplete understanding of the science of mental health—which Depression Center research, outreach and clinical care aims to rectify.
“The exceptional work being accomplished at the Depression Center is critical to the health and wellness of the people in our state, and the center’s efforts to eliminate the stigma and improve access to high-quality mental health services are commendable. Our family foundation is honored to help elevate the conversation about mental health in Colorado, and we hope this gift inspires greater giving and understanding,” said Lynn Campion, chairman of the Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation Board of Trustees.
At the direction of Depression Center Executive Director Marshall Thomas, MD, funds from the Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation grant will support programs in areas including:
Team-based, integrated clinical care:Patients of all ages are treated by 13 Depression Center clinicians including psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners and social workers. This team includes experts on aspects of behavioral health including medication management and evidence-based psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Person-Centered Therapy and Mindfulness. Treatment protocols integrate cutting-edge mental health research findings.
Telehealth:The center also continues to support their doctors and patients in real time. Currently this is done through shared faculty positions working in multiple locations and through phone consultation. The center is in the early phases of utilizing a HIPAA-certified, web-based telemedicine platform to improve this service.
Outreach and education programs: Depression Center personnel provide their services free of charge throughout Colorado, including suicide prevention programing with partners ranging from the Denver School of the Arts to Chris Natzke Karate Studio. In addition, the Depression Center has developed a program to train businesses on how to recognize when an employee might be suffering from depression or anxiety and how to improve mental health services available to employees.
Research: The center conducts and participates in a wide range of research that improves the identification and treatment of mood disorders and prevents suicide. Faculty collaborate throughout CU and with agencies and universities across the U.S. to evaluate and develop novel approaches to care, such as improving treatment of adolescent bipolar disorder and postpartum depression, and developing new ways to identify people at risk for suicide.
“The Johnson Foundation has made an extraordinary commitment to mental health care in Colorado by investing in the Depression Center,” Marshall Thomas said. “Their support will help eliminate stigma and ensure the sustainability of our efforts to improve the lives of people with depression and bipolar disorder. We are proud the center will bear the Johnson family name.”
The Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation commitment establishes a cornerstone for the Depression Center’s effort to build a center endowment of $20 million, for which $14 million has been raised to date by the Depression Center’s Board of Directors and its Endowment Committee. Philanthropy has been fundamental to the history of the Depression Center, which has benefited from $8 million in gifts by George Wiegers since its 2008 launch.
About the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center
Founded in 2008 and formally designated at CU as a Center in 2014, the three-part mission of the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation Depression Center is designed to change the status quo in terms of how people in Colorado with mood disorders are treated and served. The unique team-based approach to patient care allow the center to improve lives of people with depression and mood disorders through clinical excellence, innovative research, community programs and education.
About the Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation
In 1948, Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson started a philanthropic tradition of thoughtful giving that has thrived for nearly seven decades and four generations of Johnson family members. Through both financial support and strategic guidance, the private family foundation has helped hundreds of outstanding nonprofit organizations make a lasting impact in communities throughout Colorado and beyond. Learn more at www.JohnsonFoundation.org.
There are few areas of health care more important and less understood than mental health.
The Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus aims to change that. The 7-year-old center has been making substantial progress with its multifaceted approach of clinical care, research, education and community outreach.
Much credit for that progress goes to my longtime friend George Wiegers, who was the catalyst and primary benefactor responsible for the center's founding. George knew of the tremendous need for mental health services from experience within his family, but he also knew the stigma long attached to mental health was the biggest barrier to people accessing care. He approached professionals in the CU School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry about establishing a center that would change that.
I share George's enthusiasm. Mental health is a big priority for me and for our university.
The need is great in our community, our state and around the country. An estimated 19 million Americans are afflicted with depression and millions more with conditions including anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Colorado has one of the nation's highest suicide rates, with more than 1,000 people taking their lives annually. The World Health Organization notes that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting an estimated 350 million people.
At a time when some mental health facilities are closing, we are expanding. The Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center is at the forefront. It offers first-rate clinical care for adults and children, conducts cutting-edge research in the field, prepares the next generation of providers and offers exceptional community partnership programs.
A measure of the depth of the issue is that clinics are at capacity, many with waiting lists. We have added staff to address the demand and are entering into partnerships such as one we recently started with our colleagues at Children's Hospital Colorado. But clinical care is not enough. We need to grow our capacity.
One of the great successes of the Johnson Depression Center is the community partnership effort it has created and sustained. We collaborate with businesses, schools, churches and other organizations, providing services free of charge. Our partners engage in practical efforts such as suicide prevention and steering people toward appropriate care. We are working to expand the circle even further, engaging key constituents such as pediatricians, primary care physicians, educators, community organizations, anywhere that feels the impact of mental health. And widening the circle also plays a key role in addressing the stigma of mental health.
Stigma emerges from a lack of understanding. Just like physical diseases, mental health is a real illness – it is not a character defect or a weakness. The more we talk about it, the less the stigma.
George Wiegers knows this all too well, which is why the original name was the CU Depression Center. No euphemisms, no cloaking the name in jargon, just a straightforward approach to a real and serious problem.
George's generosity and vision attracted the attention of other philanthropists and community funding agencies. In April, the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation provided a $10 million gift to the center, leading to its naming. Through the efforts of Lynn Campion (granddaughter of Helen and Arthur Johnson), Tom Campion, Jack Alexander and others on the Johnson Foundation board, the center is able to build on its successes in outreach and education, research, telehealth offerings to health care providers, and team-based integrated clinical care. It is a leader in increased national recognition of mental health as a major concern for individuals, families and communities.
The momentum is leading other philanthropists and community leaders to join the fight to address mental health issues in our state and beyond. We need all hands on deck. The efforts of the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center can serve as a catalyst for a wider discussion in our community, our state, our nation.
Mental health will remain one of the most important health care issues we face, but in time it will also be among the best understood.