Evansville natives Bill and Mary Stone committed $34 million for a center to find breakthroughs in mental illness.
FOR PEOPLE with bipolar disorder, life can be a journey of extremes—peaks of boundless energy and depths of seemingly bottomless despair—with stable periods in between where life can be normal, only for the cycle to repeat.
For southwestern Indiana's children and adolescent youth, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions are too often left undiagnosed and untreated because there are simply too few mental health professionals to provide access to expert care.
But now, Indiana University School of Medicine is poised to make an aggressive move toward addressing both issues with the creation of the Mary O’Daniel Stone and Bill Stone Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at IU School of Medicine—Evansville.
Thanks to a $34.2 million gift from Evansville natives Mary R. (O’Daniel) and William C. Stone, the new center will seek to fundamentally alter and improve the standard of care for people with bipolar disorder and dramatically increase access to psychiatric care for the youth of Evansville and the surrounding region.
“As natives, we are committed to Evansville’s growth. Key to quality growth is a healthy populace. Mental illness is one of the least understood maladies, is often debilitating to individuals, and very difficult for families and communities,” said Bill Stone. “This center will allow researchers to make Evansville a center of groundbreaking scientific discovery while simultaneously training physicians to address the communities’ very real needs.”
The new center takes aim at a pair of profound areas of need.
First, bipolar disorder affects an estimated 9 million American adults and another 1 million adolescents. Its diagnosis requires the expertise of a psychiatrist. Drug therapies can help but often come with side effects. There’s plenty of room for advances.
Second, the shortage of professional psychiatric care for children and adolescents is a national problem, and Indiana has one of the lowest number of providers per capita in the Midwest. The shortage is particularly prevalent in southwestern Indiana, where, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, just six child and adolescent psychiatrists serve eight counties with a population of more than 80,000 children.
IU School of Medicine had already established a psychiatry residency program in the region. But the Stones’ gift—one of the largest philanthropic gifts in the school’s history—will endow three new chairs and support six additional child and adolescent psychiatrists/fellowships in southwestern Indiana. It will create a first-of-its-kind data lake that provides real time information about treatments being used successfully around the country. And the center will draw from IU’s tools built for Alzheimer’s disease research—brain imaging, genetic sequencing, animal models, and drug discovery—for its bipolar research.
“Our goal for this center is to be a national leader in research and therapies in bipolar disorder and other adolescent psychiatric conditions—to be one of the best,” said IU School of Medicine Dean Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA. “That is a tall order. But we’ve already built one of the premier research programs for Alzheimer’s disease in the country, if not the world.”
The center aims to be among America’s top 10 research programs in bipolar disorder in a decade and to make Evansville a Midwestern leader in the psychiatric care for children and adolescents.
Steven G. Becker, MD, the associate dean and director of IU School of Medicine—Evansville, said Evansville will serve as the clinical care, clinical research, and data analysis base for the center.
It will also be home to the center’s administrative hub, located in an 8,500-square foot space within the Deaconess Downtown Clinic in Evansville.
The Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Center’s first leader, Stephen M. Strakowski, MD, is an Indiana native who most recently served as vice dean of research and associate vice president for regional mental health at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. Among other areas, Strakowski is accomplished in bipolar disorder research.
In 2018 the Stones made a $15 million gift to create and support the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences, home to IU School of Medicine—Evansville, among other programs.
In announcing this latest gift in December, Mary O’Daniel Stone said too many tragedies in America have their roots in mental illness. She hopes this center will make a difference. Bill Stone, her husband of 42 years, said the gift and the center are just a starting point, that the real excitement will come when strides have been made in mental illness.
“I always look at it by asking, ‘Why not Evansville? There are people here just as smart as anywhere,” he said. “So, let’s get on with it.”