Regents Approve New MSU Mental Health Research Center

Sep 18, 2014

Montana is getting a new Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery at Montana State University. The state Board of Regents unanimously approved that today. Part of the new center’s mission is to reduce Montana’s high suicide rate.

MSU President Waded Cruzado says suicide is painful and personal. She told the Regents, it’s an issue she began dealing with a month-and-a-half before she took the helm at the Bozeman campus almost five years ago. Cruzado said since then, "not a semester has gone by that MSU has not lost a student to suicide."

She says she had to summon the courage to send handwritten letters to parents, that led to phone calls and later face-to-face meetings.

"They tell me about their sons. They tell me about their lives. The hopes that they had. And two mothers before leaving my office have said exactly the same words. They have said, ‘Do everything you can.’”

Cruzado says that’s why MSU came forward with the proposal to create a Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery.

Professor Frances Lefcort chairs the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience at MSU. She’s the interim director of the newly created center. Lecort says the new center is a "no brainer."

She says nationally over $5 billion per year is spent on treating mental illness. Lefcort says Montana has one of the top suicide rates in the country.

MSU’s written proposal says it has been decades since scientists have made any major breakthrough in the treatment of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder or major depression. There is a poor understanding of the cause of these conditions. The Center’s goal is to reach across the disciplines to better understand mental illness and then serve as a resource for health care providers, patients, and their families, as well as their communities.

Clementine Lindley is the executive director of NAMI Billings. She says this center has the potential to be the leader in research on mental illness, but more importantly it will serve as a resource for patients and their families.

Lindley notes, "Weekly, sometimes daily I speak to families in various rural communities as far south as Ashland, as far north as Sidney. There is nothing to help families past Billings. That’s a lot of space. The questions every day are the same, ‘How do I care for my sick loved one when I don’t have the resources locally. There’s nothing.’ "

Proponents of this Center say they are already collaborating with the Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience at the University of Montana.

Paul Tuss of Havre is the chair of the Board of Regents. He wanted assurances that this center is not going to duplicate the work that is already taking place at the University of Montana.

"Because that’s what Montana citizens, that’s what Montana lawmakers, I believe that’s what the governor would want us to do," says Tuss. "And I think a lot of us on this board – all of us – on this board take that very seriously. So I appreciate this dialog with the two presidents if we can have a little more conversation about assuring us, assuring Montana residents, and taxpayers that we are not duplicating this effort."

The regents were told the center at MSU will look at the genetic and biological side of mental illness while the UM center is working on better understanding traumatic brain injury and PTSD. Cruzado says there will be areas where both centers will work in collaboration.

She stresses this center falls under MSU’s research mission. Cruzado says funding will come through grants, contracts, and gifts.

The regents unanimously approved creation of the center.