Brudnick Family Funds Adolescent Depression Research

May 22, 2018

Irving Brudnick’s struggle with chronic depression began in his late teens and, according to his widow, Betty, the disease troubled him for much of his adult life.

A successful businessman, educator, and philanthropist, Brudnick was passionate about putting his time and charitable resources toward causes that meant a great deal to him, including violence prevention, conflict resolution, and the effort to reduce the stigma of a mental illness diagnosis. In the 1960s, Irving cofounded the Tri-City Mental Health Area Board, and Betty served as president of the organization for a time. Before his death in 2004, Irving and Betty generously supported McLean in a variety of ways including funding both depression and Alzheimer’s research.

According to Betty, McLean has long been a part of their lives, and the care her husband received at McLean helped him manage his condition. “McLean relieved much of the burden of the illness for my husband,” said Betty. “It is the best resource in the country for both clinical care and research.”

Betty Brudnick with her daughters
Betty Brudnick with her daughters Judith Kaye, left, and Amy Cerel, right

In gratitude, Betty and her three children, Judith Kaye, Richard Brudnick, and Amy Cerel, recently decided to deepen their support of McLean through a generous gift that is both public-spirited and deeply personal. Last December, the family established the Brudnick Family Endowed Fund for Adolescent Depression Research at McLean with a $1 million gift to the hospital.

The fund will support research into the illness that plagued her husband since adolescence. “We hope that earlier diagnosis and better treatments will diminish much of the pain people suffer,” said Betty, who served as a McLean Trustee from 1999 to 2001, on McLean’s National Council from 2002 to 2009, and continues her involvement today as an honorary trustee.

Getting to the Roots of Depression

“A gift like this is a game-changer,” said Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD, director of the Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research (CDASR). “Much of our research is focused on understanding what is causing depression from psychological, environmental, and neurobiological perspectives. Once we understand what increases vulnerability to this illness—and how and why some people are more resilient—we can develop more targeted and effective treatments. That requires probing from many angles and earlier in the lifespan, which is what this gift will enable us to do.”

Unraveling the complex causes of depression is of great interest to Betty and Irving’s daughter Amy Cerel. Amy struggled with post-partum depression after her eldest son was born. A volunteer mental health advocate and one of several dozen people featured in McLean’s Deconstructing Stigma public awareness campaign, Amy also is passionate about ending the stigma of a psychiatric diagnosis.

“Improving the lives of others is important to our family” said Cerel. “Our hope is that the gift will help lessen the suffering of people like my father and me by illuminating the role that family history and genetics play in mood disorders.”

Key Tools in the Pursuit

The Brudnicks recognize that research is essential, and neuroimaging technologies are proving to be some of the most effective tools in depression research. For example, Dr. Pizzagalli, in collaboration with Dr. Randy Auerbach, is investigating the neurobiological markers that predict the onset of major depressive disorder in children as young as 12 years old. Dr. Christian Webb is using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test the effects of different forms of psychotherapy on the adolescent brain. In complementary work, Dr. Pizzagalli’s lab uses neuroimaging to evaluate treatment response, which will help clinicians choose the best treatments.

Depression in Adolescents

  • By age 18, 15% of adolescents will have experienced at least one episode of major depressive disorder
  • Teenaged girls report twice as many depressive episodes as boys
  • Only about half of depressed adolescents respond to treatment
  • One of the strongest risk factors in depression is having a parent who also experienced the illness

Dr. Jeremy Stewart and other investigators in the center are using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure individual differences in adolescents’ sensitivity to rejection, a common precipitating factor in suicide. With suicide the second leading cause of adolescent death, the team hopes to identify markers that predict short-term suicide risk.

Betty said she hopes the family gift has a broad impact on the next generation of young people.

To learn more about philanthropy at McLean, visit the Give page.

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