Dear Alumni and Friends,
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.
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