The University Record, November 19, 2001

Depression Center will be one-of-a-kind

By Kara Gavin
Health System Public Relations

The nation’s first comprehensive center devoted to treatment, research and education in depression will be established at the Health System, as approved by the Regents at their November meeting.

The new U-M Depression Center will bring together and expand the University’s wide range of coordinated patient care services; its extensive, world-class clinical and laboratory research efforts; its patient, family and community education programs; and its renowned training programs for health care professionals and students. This broad scope will make it the first such center in the United States, and allow the U-M to advance the field of depression on all fronts.

“The time is right to focus all the resources we can on understanding and defeating this illness, and the social stigma that it carries, so that we can help the 18 million Americans who suffer from depression every year,” says John Greden, the center’s executive director. He added that the U-M now will embark on a major fundraising campaign to support the center’s activities.

With the center, Greden says, “We hope to lead the way in accelerating the pace of neuroscience research in depression, bringing the products of that research to patients, and reaching out to those who are coping with depression, those who care for them, and those who make decisions about their care.” Greden is chair of the Department of Psychiatry, and the Rachel Upjohn Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences at the Medical School.

The center will address depression in people of all ages, as well as the postpartum, bipolar and treatment-resistant forms. More than 100 physicians, scientists, psychologists, social workers, nurses and staff form a network that will care for patients, conduct research and provide education.

Says Health System chief executive officer Gilbert S. Omenn, “We’re proud to lead the nation in enhancing and linking scientific studies of depression and care of depressed patients across many specialties. We invite the community and our peers to join us in our new venture.”

Depression, which the World Health Organization has ranked as one of the top four most disabling diagnoses in the world, is a set of illnesses with complex physical and psychological roots—and one that challenges researchers, health care providers, patients, families, employers, insurers and governments alike. Its symptoms of hopelessness, sadness, energy loss, sleep and appetite disruption, restlessness and despair drain its victims of their ability to work, enjoy life and relate to loved ones. It may even rob them of their will to live.

As many as one in five women and one in eight men are at high risk of experiencing depression sometime in their lives, no matter what their race or socioeconomic status. Recent advances in medication and talk therapy have made depression more treatable than ever. But only about 10 percent of all people with depression receive adequate treatment, due to social stigma, lack of symptom awareness, poor diagnosis, incomplete treatment regimens and inability to pay.

The picture is changing, though. Greden points to recent events in the depression field, including scientific discoveries, public education campaigns, the availability of new and more cost-effective medications, media attention, improved health care training, and mental health insurance parity legislation.

“Right now, the battle against depression is beginning to turn in our patients’ favor, as science provides new answers, pharmaceutical and treatment research provide new options, social acceptance provides new openness and government policy provides new means for coverage,” Greden says. “What better time to launch a comprehensive center to catalyze the momentum that we have?”


New Center fights depression using existing and new resources

  • Laboratory research: Center researchers are working to characterize the genetic and neurochemical signals within the brain that lead to depression, to see the links between depression and other mental and physical health problems, and to study and improve the delivery of health care to depression patients. New tools like DNA microarray chips and advanced brain scanning techniques are speeding scientific discovery.

  • Clinical research: Studies designed to test new medications and treatment interventions, or to measure how well patients do under certain treatment strategies, are another major focus. U-M patients have access to the newest treatment advances through clinical trials like STAR*D, a national study for patients with treatment-resistant depression in which U-M is one of only 13 participating sites—the only site in Michigan.

  • Treatment: The center’s patients receive team-based, family-centered treatment coordinated by Care Navigators from the new Michigan Depression Outreach and Collaborative Care, or M-DOCC, program—a continuous care service designed to support long-term recovery. Patients are treated by specialists in many fields, often within the same visit, using approaches tailored to their individual diagnosis, and followed up to ensure treatments work and other health issues are being addressed.

  • Early diagnosis: Patients, especially those with other primary illnesses, will be more likely to have their depression diagnosed early, as center clinicians and outreach staff work with physicians in primary care and specialty fields such as cardiology, geriatrics, cancer, obstetrics and adolescent medicine. Free depression screenings for the community will be available in early 2002.

  • Education: The education of patients, their loved ones and the community is expanding through a variety of efforts. Workshops for patients and families are being offered beginning Jan. 21, 2002; participants will learn about depression’s causes, treatments and effects, and will learn ways to form partnerships in treatment. Register by calling (734) 764-0267. Two new Depression Education and Resource Centers funded by a $502,000 grant from FRIENDS of the Health System are available in clinical areas to give patients and families access to printed and electronic information. And conferences for health care professionals will bring experts with current knowledge in contact with those on the front lines of diagnosis and treatment.

    Join the cause to defeat depression

    The U-M Depression Center is now accepting donations from those who want to help it achieve its missions. Those interested in contributing may call Jim Thomas, Medical Center Office of Development, (734) 998-7705. Or, they may make a contribution online at www.med.umich.edu/depression, or mail contributions to the U-M Depression Center, Office of Development, 301 East Liberty Street, Suite 300, Ann Arbor, MI. 48104-2216. Checks should be made payable to the U-M Depression Center.