U-M Depression Center enters 20th year with new director and focus on next-generation research

February 19, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership
Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D.

Nearly 20 years ago, U-M made history by establishing the nation’s first Depression Center, focused on advancing research, improving care and reducing stigma for some of the most common, costly and disabling health conditions.

Thursday, the U-M Depression Center’s leadership passed to a new generation, as the board of regents approved Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D., as its next director.

Sen is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who has led efforts to understand the role of stress, sleep and genetics in the risk of depression and suicide. He takes the reins from founding director John Greden, M.D., who he credits with helping change how depression and other mood disorders are viewed in America.

In its first two decades, the center has fostered broad awareness of depression, bipolar illness and related disorders, and helped everyone from students, athletes and new mothers to military veterans and primary care physicians. U-M’s center paved the way for 26 similar centers to launch around the country and connect as a network.

“In its inaugural phase, the Depression Center, under John’s strong leadership, catalyzed countless conversations throughout our schools, workplaces and communities, reducing the stigma around mental health and advancing our understanding of the toll of depression,” said Sen. “With this foundation and important recent scientific advances and technology development, we now have the opportunity to transform our approach to depression.”

Today, the center includes more than 350 faculty members from 17 U-M schools, colleges and institutes whose work relates to all aspects of depression and bipolar disorder. Together, they bring in more than $58 million in research funding each year.

“Building on the strong framework created over the past two decades, we seek to grow and support this community of researchers and clinical innovators even further, to enhance the reach and impact of the new knowledge they generate,” said Marschall Runge, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for medical affairs, CEO of Michigan Medicine and dean of the U-M Medical School.

Sen likened the current moment to the cancer care of decades ago, when the first cancer centers had made advances in risk identification, detection and treatment.

“In the current system, we typically encounter patients suffering with depression when they are already in an advanced stage of the disease,” he said. “We now have the foundation and tools to define a more global approach, proactively preventing many episodes of depression before they start and detecting other episodes much earlier, when relatively mild interventions can have large impacts. For both prevention and treatment, we are also well-positioned now to match people with the intervention that will work best for them in ways we couldn’t before.”

Greden noted that when he envisioned the Depression Center in the late 1990s, the high stigma around depression, and the lack of connection among depression researchers within and between institutions, indeed was similar to the climate for cancer in the 1950s. Decades ago, cancer was often whispered about, and research was disjointed. Today, people are more comfortable disclosing their diagnosis, discussing symptoms and seeking help — and more help is available.

“We have made great progress, thanks to the creative and collaborative efforts of hundreds of faculty and legions of supporters,” said Greden. “While we still have much to do, the center’s leadership will be in great hands, and working together, we can conquer these illnesses.”

After leading the medical school’s Department of Psychiatry for 22 years through 2007, and the Depression Center for its entire history, Greden now holds the titles of Rachel Upjohn Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences and emeritus research professor of the Michigan Neurosciences Institute.