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$10 million donation to augment mental health services

| Thursday, October 9, 2014

At the 35th reunion for the Notre Dame class of 1979 this summer, alumnus Mark Gallogly and his wife, Lise Strickler, announced their intent to donate $10 million to Notre Dame in support of mental health services.

“We wanted to make the gift to recognize our great friend Fr. Jim McDonald and to focus on an issue that we think is important, which is mental health of students,” Gallogly said. “Jim’s 30th anniversary as a priest was the opportunity to both recognize him and the work that he’s done and at the same time provide resources to something that we feel strongly about.”

The donation will endow the newly-established Rev. James E. McDonald, C.S.C., Center for Student Well-Being in honor of McDonald, a former associate vice president and counselor to University President Fr. John Jenkins.

“That whole program is a key priority for us over the next three to five years,” Bill Stackman, associate vice president for student services said. “It’s going to change the way we work and how we take care of our students.”

Strickler said the gift resulted from conversations between Gallogly and McDonald, who were classmates in the Program of Liberal Studies — then called the General Program — at Notre Dame. Gallogly said he and Strickler initially identified mental health as the target for their donation after observing the effects mental illnesses had had on people they knew.

“College is a time of great exploration, growth and learning,” Gallogly said. “At the same time, students move away from friends and family, have newfound freedom and face intense academic pressure. This combination can lead to a variety of mental health issues.

“Some of our extended family and friends, a number of good friends and the children of friends have experienced real mental health issues while in college. It seemed like it is a really important thing and an area of great need.”

Though Gallogly and McDonald approached Notre Dame on their own initiative with the desire to support mental well-bring, the University already had plans for the additional mental health services it wanted to offer if it had the funding, Gallogly said.

“When we first raised this with Fr. Jim, he was excited about the idea,” Gallogly said. “And then when we together raised it with the University, they immediately embraced it.”

“We hope this can increase the speed with which the University can provide substantial mental health services, increase the effort to prevent mental health issues and decrease the stigma associated with mental health problems,” he said.

Stackman said he and his team in the Office of Student Affairs developed a strategic plan that includes four priorities for mental health services: creating “holistic and integrated health and wellness unit,” “enhancing the care that we provide to athletes,” establishing the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being and increasing awareness of “students with emotional challenges.”

“So to strengthen our ability to identify and support the needs of individual students with emotional challenges, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicide ideation, self-harm and eating disorders,” Stackman said. “That by itself is one of our core priorities.”

Strickler said the University’s plans reflected a response to national trends of college students suffering from mental illness and of universities attempting to address those concerns.

“I think there is also a sense nationwide that this is an area that is underfunded at many universities,” she said. “We were excited because when we approached Notre Dame it was clear they were also thinking deeply about mental health. They had already identified this as an area where they wanted to be best in class.”

The University appointed Kelly Hogan Stewart as director of the McDonald Center on Aug. 25. Hogan Stewart said the Center has incorporated both the staff and the mission of the former Office of Alcohol and Drug Education (OADE) into its broader plans for supporting preventative work for students’ mental wellness.

“[The OADE’s] role was to do early intervention and education surrounding choices of alcohol and drugs,” Hogan Stewart said. “There was a little bit of a prevention component to it, but there was also an intervention component. We are shifting that, making it more comprehensive as far as addressing overall well-being, overall wellness, health promotion and also focusing a lot more on prevention as opposed to intervention, which is a totally different approach.”

Hogan Stewart said “the sky’s the limit” for how the Center will enact preventative measures with a “public health approach.” The overall strategy will focus primarily on education campaigns and tactics to increase visibility and awareness of issues that most critically impact the student body, she said. Currently, there are no set plans for specific programs.

“Things drive the areas that a health-promotion unit actually addresses will be driven by data, long-standing tradition and things that campus partners, students, deans, other administrators may tell us that are important here on this college campus,” Hogan Stewart said.

“What I’ve been doing most recently is digging into data and finding out, what really are our hot-topic areas?” she said. “Is it sleep? Is it anxiety? Alcohol and drug choices? I don’t know; I’m still digging into the data, but that will drive what our focus will be.”

Hogan Stewart said intervention-based services like counseling remain available to students through the University Counseling Center (UCC), but her staff will focus on shifting attitudes to prevent mental illness and support those who suffer from it.

“When you look at it systematically, the rectors are doing one-on-one interventions, [and so are] your faculty members, so when you look at that environmental approach there still are those one-on-one conversations or interactions, ” Hogan Stewart said. “We will continue to do that, but how it looks within the Center, it’s still to be determined.”

Hogan Stewart said the Notre Dame community should keep “being patient and managing expectations” as the Center begins to make plans to initiate programs.

“We’re being strategic in how we develop the Center, so it’s something that we’re actually recrafting, rebranding and starting from the ground up in some ways,” she said. “To go through that change model on a campus sometimes will take over a year, so hopefully by this time next year, students will say, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s the Center for Student Well-Being,’ and they’ll have benefitted from some of those services that we provide, or resources or education.”

Gallogly said his and Strickler’s ultimate hope was to offer services both to students grappling with mental illness and to those who aren’t sure how to support their friends who suffer. He said he hopes the Center will give students the “context” and “confidence” to confront mental health issues.

“As a friend when you see someone struggling in school, do you know what to do?” Gallogly said. “… And then as a person who’s struggling with mental health issues, do you think your friends, the University and others will help you get through the issue?”

“Whether you’ve left the University temporarily or whether you’ve stayed at the University … if you don’t have the right resources, what happens? You may get into a deeper hole,” he said. “The quality and speed of the professional resources, a real focus on prevention, … on educating the community, this combination can result in a decrease in the stigma of mental health problems — those are the goals we hope for.”

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About Lesley Stevenson

Lesley Stevenson is a senior news writer for The Observer after previously serving as News Editor and an Assistant Managing Editor. She is a senior from Memphis, Tennessee, studying Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) and American Studies and living in Breen-Phillips Hall. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lcstevenson, and visit her website at lcstevenson.wordpress.com

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