Boosting Mental Health

A historic Huntsman family gift brings new life to efforts to improve mental health in Utah


The U is on its way to becoming a national leader in mental health thanks to a $150 million gift from the Huntsman family. The funds will be used to establish the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and will support research, hire new faculty, train more students, and expand access to patient care. The negative stigma around mental health is one of the biggest, and first, barriers that the Huntsman family wants to address, says David Huntsman, president, COO, and director of the Huntsman Foundation.

“Too many people are suffering in silence and embarrassed to reach out and get the help they need. We want to change that,” says Huntsman. “We see mental health as the health crisis of our generation. And we want to do all we can to help.”

The funds will be given over 15 years. In the first year, $2 million is allocated for campus programs and to help underserved populations in Utah, including rural communities. It’s also supporting research to identify genetic risk factors that cause and contribute to mental illness, says James Ashworth BA’84 MD’89, interim chair of psychiatry.

The ultimate goal is to make this institute a model for other health systems around the country, Ashworth says. Programs can be tried and refined here at the U and then rolled out in other areas—for example, a pilot program that connects U students in crisis with a mobile outreach team. If successful, the model could be used at other schools, he says. “This gift is making us all think bigger. There’s no telling what we can accomplish now,” Ashworth says.

Mental Health: By the Numbers

adults experience poor
mental health

of Utah adults with mental illness do not
receive treatment or counseling

Suicide is the leading cause of death
for Utahns ages 10-24

adults in Utah experience serious
mental illness

of new mothers experience postpartum
depression symptoms

 

in the nation for child psychiatrists
per capita

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