Emory Report

August 7, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 39

Grant tackles depression

By Sarah Goodwin

Individuals who suffer from clinical depression often bear the double burden of public misunderstanding and social rejection. The disease is frequently misunderstood or even completely overlooked by health care professionals.

This is particularly true for older adults. A survey conducted by the National Mental Health Association found that 49 percent of people over 65 years old think depression is a personal weakness, and 58 percent of respondents said they believe depression is a normal part of aging.

Thanks to a $1 million gift from businessman and philanthropist J. B. Fuqua, clinicians at the Fuqua Center for Late-Life Depression at Wesley Woods are working to change these perceptions.

The grant will be used to expand the Center's education initiatives to address the stigma attached to depression and to train more healthcare and other professionals to recognize and treat the illness.

Fuqua donated an initial $1 million in January 1999 to establish the center to specialize in treating depression in older people. Its creation was a landmark occurrence in a field that historically has been underfunded and marginalized.

The Fuqua Center is developing a comprehensive treatment center that integrates clinical services, community outreach and healthcare research.

The additional gift includes funds for the center to partner with the National Mental Health Association of Georgia to build awareness and understanding of depression throughout the state.

"I'm concerned that so many older people are depressed and could be treated successfully, but are either embarrassed to seek help or don't know where to turn," said Fuqua, who recently celebrated his 82nd birthday. "I'm glad to further support the center's aggressive efforts to change this pattern through education and training."

Fuqua, whose cumulative giving ranks him as one of the top 100 philanthropists in the U.S., has a long history of supporting health and education in Atlanta and beyond.

"Depression is one of the most devastating but treatable medical illnesses faced by older adults," said William McDonald, director of the Fuqua Center and associate professor in the School of Medicine. "Mr. Fuqua has again stepped forward by providing leadership and focusing attention on an area of major public health concern for our country."

The center's primary objective is to increase the access of older adults to treatment. This will be achieved by placing nurse practitioners in Atlanta-area assisted-living facilities, as well as developing local networks of people throughout Georgia who are trained to recognize depression in older people and know where to refer them for treatment.

These networks will include primary-care physicians, staff of community agencies who serve older adults, clergy, and persons working in assisted-living and retirement communities.

The Fuqua Center also will develop a web site to inform both medical professionals and the public about the diagnosis and treatment of depression.

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