Pediatrician, Author, and Advocate Mark Vonnegut Addresses McLean’s Board of Visitors

July 14, 2016

Mark Vonnegut, pediatrician, author, son of the novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and mental health advocate who has bipolar disorder, was the keynote speaker at McLean’s Board of Visitor’s annual meeting May 4, telling the audience that the “return on investment of good mental health care is substantial” and that “people with mental illness do get better.”

Diagnosed in the early 1970s with what doctors first thought was schizophrenia but later clarified as bipolar disorder, he received treatment and went on to build a successful career as a pediatrician, have a family, and write two books about living with mental illness. Vonnegut spoke of his appreciation for the compassionate caregivers in his life and stressed the importance of follow-up.

“In sharing his personal experiences so candidly, Dr. Vonnegut delivered honest insight into living with mental illness, as well as optimism for succeeding despite its challenges,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, McLean’s president and psychiatrist in chief. “And since many people on the Board of Visitors have family or friends impacted by mental illness, his message of hope resonated.”

Rauch thanked members of the Board of Visitors for their service, reaffirming the importance of their roles and encouraging them to continue to advocate for mental health awareness in their communities. He gave an overview of the past year, highlighting the hospital’s many accomplishments including its rank as the top freestanding psychiatric hospital in the country by U.S. News and World Report for the 12th consecutive year.

Mark Vonnegut and Scott L. Rauch, MD
Mark Vonnegut with McLean President and Psychiatrist
in Chief Scott L. Rauch

He also reported that McLean’s $100 million fundraising campaign which publicly launched in October 2015 had already reached $96.7 million. He noted several projects that were funded through the campaign, including a new wing on the admissions building made possible through a $5 million gift and the addition of the new 3-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging scanner funded by a $3.7 million gift from the Manton Foundation, which will help investigators broaden their research scope.

Another exciting initiative, said Rauch, was the creation of a new database—a Partners HealthCare-wide “Bio-Bank” in which patients volunteer their blood samples and complete a health information survey to help researchers understand how mental and physical health is affected by genes. He noted that, to date, McLean has recruited more than 200 patients to participate in the program.

Rauch added that the hospital recently completed its seven-year strategic plan, which included officially launching all seven divisions and finalizing its new leadership structure to include a chief academic officer, chief scientific officer, and chief medical officer.

Also addressing the audience was Randy P. Auerbach, PhD, ABPP, director of the Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Laboratory and director of Clinical Research for the Simches Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. His presentation, “Toward Understanding Why Depressed Adolescents Suicide,” discussed his research that focuses on identifying specific biological markers to help determine why some depressed adolescents engage in suicidal behaviors while others do not.

The meeting concluded with staff and board members breaking into nine different roundtable discussions led by McLean’s division chiefs and program directors and tours of the McLean Imaging Center and the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center.

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