April 29, 2021

Susan Brown’s Mission to Improve and Save Lives

“Susan’s passion and commitment to helping others access care is extraordinary. She is a wonderful partner in these efforts.”

Losing two of her dearest friends to suicide was devastating for Susan Crumpacker Brown. In her grief, she began asking why and was shocked to discover that her hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan had a higher than average suicide rate. Her own family, she learned, had a long history of depression. Investigating further, she found that access to mental health care was not only extremely limited in Kalamazoo, but few psychiatrists practiced in the area. Determined to make a difference, she stepped into action.

Brown convened a group of friends, community members, and faculty from the Eisenberg Family Depression Center and Department of Psychiatry to address Kalamazoo’s dire need for mental health services. They developed a pilot study to assess the situation. The study’s findings — in partnership with the new medical school at Western Michigan University — led to the establishment of the Kalamazoo Collaborative Care Project (KCCP). Its goals are to promote mental health services, broaden access to care, and decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness. KCCP opened its first comprehensive mental health clinic in 2018.

But Brown’s efforts did not stop there. She wanted to address depression more broadly. Collaborating with U-M psychiatry faculty on the KCCP had opened her eyes to the types of groundbreaking depression research being done. Appreciative of their commitment to erasing the stigma of mental illness, Brown felt confident that an investment in its researchers would make an impact on the issues she held dear. In 2016, she made a gift to the Department of Psychiatry to establish the Susan Crumpacker Brown Research Professorship in Depression.

“The U-M is a leader in helping bridge this gap,” said Brown. “I am grateful for their help in creating the KCCP and thrilled to give back, to help an institution I love and admire. This gift honors the role that Michigan played in making the program happen and supports their ongoing efforts to help other communities in the state and beyond.”

John Greden, M.D., founder and emeritus executive director of the Eisenberg Family Depression Center, was delighted with the gift but also impressed by the woman behind it. “Susan is a force,” he said, about her tireless work on behalf of those struggling with depression. Gregory Dalack, M.D., current chair of the Department of Psychiatry agrees: “Susan’s passion and commitment to helping others access care is extraordinary. She is a wonderful partner in these efforts.”

Dr. Pfeiffer and Susan Brown

As the inaugural Crumpacker Brown Research Professor, Marcia Valenstein, M.D., personified the gift’s intent as someone focused on improving and broadening access to mental health care. After Dr. Valenstein’s retirement, Paul Pfeiffer, M.D., became the professorship’s new holder. His work seeks to boost the quality of depression care through peer-based and technology-based interventions. Dr. Pfeiffer’s leadership across department initiatives also allows him to work closely with the KCCP, bringing Brown’s support full-circle.

“Susan’s determination to prevent suicide by making mental health treatment more available and less stigmatized inspires our work,” said Dr. Pfeiffer.

Brown’s visionary gift for the Department of Psychiatry is just one of the many ways she and her husband, Bob, support their alma mater. Having met at U-M as students in the 1960s, they have remained engaged with the university for more than four decades — carrying on a family legacy of philanthropy. Over the years, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the U-M Museum of Art, the Athletic Department, the College of Engineering, and Michigan Medicine have all benefitted from their leadership, personal generosity, as well as that from their extended family through the Monroe-Brown Foundation.