Shortly before Jonathan Brooking died by suicide in 1985 at age 28, he told his mother Ruth: “If you ever have money to donate, give it to mental health research.” Years before he took his own life, Jonathan had suffered a severe psychotic break and had been hospitalized for 18 months at McLean, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. “To see Jonathan felled by this illness was a sad and shocking experience for us all,” said his sister Liz Brooking. “He had always been so strong, sensitive, and creative. The disease made him a different person.”
Although his life ultimately ended tragically, his family is nonetheless grateful for the hospital’s extraordinary efforts in treating Jonathan. “Everyone took such wonderful care of him,” Ruth recalled. “The doctors and nurses at McLean brought Jonathan back to himself better than we ever expected, and for that, I’ll always be thankful.”
To express their gratitude and to honor Jonathan’s wishes after his death, the family established an endowed fund in Jonathan’s name with a $20,000 gift from his grandmother, Margaret Dumaine. Faithfully supported by family and friends over the past 34 years, the endowment has increased to a market value of nearly $1 million and has become one of McLean’s most active endowed funds. The interest it yields annually provides much-needed funding to promising investigators conducting psychiatric research at McLean.
In 2010, the Jonathan Edward Brooking Mental Health Research Fellowship was established to advance the careers of junior investigators at McLean. The fellowship is awarded to one young investigator annually and is designed to support a stand-alone proposal or a meaningful component of a larger project.
The 2020-2021 Brooking Fellowship was awarded to Mary Kathryn Dahlgren, PhD. Dr. Dahlgren is a research fellow in the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core (CCNC) and the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) program at McLean and the 11th Brooking Fellow since the fund was established. Her work focuses on the impact of both recreational and medical cannabis use on cognition, clinical state, neural activation, and brain structure, and it promises to have important implications for public safety.
The Brookings have a special relationship with McLean and are committed to supporting mental health research. Jonathan’s grandfather Buck Dumaine donated his brain to McLean’s Brain Bank (Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center), a worldwide resource for neuroscientists investigating the origins of psychiatric illnesses. Ruth and Liz are on the center’s list of potential donors. In addition, both women participated in a genetics study on schizophrenia that was conducted by the late Deborah Levy, PhD. “It’s a privilege to be able to contribute to this cause in any way we can—whether with money, participation in clinical trials or brain donation,” Liz said. “Our gifts to McLean enable Jonathan to live on and represent all the good that he was.”
“Jonathan was an ‘outdoor boy,’ but because of his illness, he was often restrained. He could be irrational and frightening at times, said Ruth. “I remember one day at McLean, he desperately wanted to go outside. His aide was so kind. She said to him: ‘I’m not afraid of you. I’ll take you out.’ Jonathan was so happy just looking at the trees and being outdoors. He had a smile on his face that could make you weep. He was a dear, kind, generous person—but in the end, this disease devastated him. It is my hope that our contributions to McLean will help put an end to that kind of suffering. Someday, maybe doctors will find a way to eliminate mental illness. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
“Despite what my brother endured, I think there was a greater purpose to his abbreviated life—to suffer so others wouldn’t have to,” said Liz. “The silver lining in his tragic story is that he was a catalyst for good things to come. I’d like to think that if we can continue to bring the subject of mental illness out of the shadows and apply brilliant minds to the task, we might see some real progress: de-stigmatize the disease and possibly find a cure. That would be a wonderful legacy for Jonathan.”
Please consider making a gift to supporting ongoing research through the Jonathan Edward Brooking Memorial Fund for Mental Health Research.
Learn more about Jonathan’s story.