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Mental health community: Huntsman donation comes at a needed time

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This month, one of Utah’s most well-known families announced a $150 million gift to the University of Utah for mental health. And experts say it comes at a time when there is a great need for help.

“There’s a sea of need,” and not enough money or caregivers, said Dr. James Ashworth, the interim chair of the department of psychiatry at the U. and the director of UNI, the University Neuropsychiatric Institute.

Ashworth says people with mental health problems are not treated the same as those with a physical ailment. Margins have never been great, and access is a huge problem.

“I would say for decades, the mentally ill have been discriminated against by people, government, by taxpayers. Why do they get so little?” he asked. “Consequently, there’s not a robust workforce to manage it.”

The CEO of University of Utah Health and the dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, Dr. Michael Good, spoke to the KSL editorial board about the need.

“The Gardner Institute released a report saying one in five Utahns will experience poor mental health. But less than half of them will get treatment. And if you rank us to other states, access to care is particularly poor,” said Good.

That report can be found here.

There’s a stigma, but Ashworth says when people and even businesses treat other people differently, that becomes something else: discrimination.

“Good people might be discriminating against the mentally ill and not realize they are doing that,” he said.

But more help is coming, Ashworth said, opening up more resources with the donation from the Huntsman family.

This is part one of a two-part report. Tomorrow, we’ll go in-depth on how the money will be spent.