Eisenberg family donates $10.75 million to University Depression Center

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 8:23pm

University of Michigan alumni Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg, as well as the Eisenberg family overall, donated $10.75 million last Thursday to the University’s Depression Center to fund research projects for mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Kenneth Eisenberg said in a press release his family’s goal was to find solutions to meaningfully treat this widespread disorder, emphasizing the need to challenge existing negative perceptions held in society.

“It is time to put our energy and resources into finding solutions for depression,” Eisenberg said. “Everyone has been touched by a loved one or friend affected by mental illness. Our family’s goal is to remove the stigma associated with this disease and to provide the necessary financial support to assure that meaningful treatment is accessible.”

According to the National Center of Mental Health, depression can reveal itself differently across individuals, with symptoms including persistent sad, anxious or empty moods; feelings of hopelessness and pessimism; and loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies. Data collected from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey the Center for Disease Control distributed from 2009 to 2012, 7.6 percent of people 12 years of age and older in the United States suffered from depression at any given two-week period.

Globally, about 350 million people suffer from depression, and it is one of the main causes of disabilities.

The University's center, located in the Rachel Upjohn Building, was established in 2001 as the first center in the nation to tackle bipolar and depression disorders comprehensively, focusing on medical research, clinical care, education and public policy.

The Eisenberg’s gift will mainly be used for medical research. John Greden, founder and executive director of the center, said the gift will help fund projects that aim to uncover the underlying causes of the illnesses, which will allow clinicians to personalize treatments for each patient with depression or bipolar disorder.

“Depression and bipolar illnesses probably have multiple different causes,” he said. “If we have multiple causes, we’ve got to treat the underlying causes … one-sized treatment will never fit all. We want to know: Will this type of depression respond to this antidepressant or this anti-inflammatory agent or this new medicine that will alter the genetic message? Then we can choose the treatment that precisely targets the underlying cause.”

LSA senior Reid Depowski, secretary for a new student group at the University's Counseling and Psychological Services, CAPS In Action, wrote in an email interview that she thinks personalizing depression treatment has the potential to be highly impactful.

“Depression is such a widespread illness that not everyone responds the same to treatment or understands their symptoms in the same ways,” Depowski wrote. “Our Depression Center intends to focus on the personal development of those seeking treatment for their depression, which I think is a great step in the right direction to client-focused therapy specifically to that client.”

Depowski also said the gift could spark conversations on campus about the necessity of research and the importance of mental health for everyone.

“That’s the goal of our group — to destigmatize mental health, mental illness, and make it normal to talk about,” she wrote.

The gift also established the Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg Professorship of Depression and Neurosciences. The first recipient of the professorship was Psychiatry Prof. Srijan Sen, whose goal is to develop more effective and personalized treatments for those who suffer from depression.

One of Sen’s ongoing research projects focuses on the relationship between stress and depression in medical interns. Sen said medical interns are appropriate models for his research because they suffer from high stress — working 80 to 90 hours a week, suffering from sleep deprivation and dealing with life and death situations with their patients for the first time.

Sen said he hopes to further his study with the medical interns through his newly received professorship by utilizing mobile and wearable technology, which will allow him to get real-time and more reliable and objective data from his subjects.

According to Sen’s research, the rate of depression increased from 3.9 percent in the beginning of the internship to almost 50 percent during the internship, he said. He added that depression in interns presents a risk to patients, noting that the young professionals are more likely to commit medical errors.

“Rates of depressions are very high, especially in (the medical intern) population,” Sen said. “It is important for health care to understand what’s causing the high rate of depression — finding ways to decrease it is important for them and for their patients.”

This article was updated with data from Sen's research. In an interview, Sen said the rate of depression among medical interns increased to almost 50 percent during the internship, not 27.1 percent.