UCSF announces new child, adolescent mental health center that will serve as national model for growing crisis in youth services

By Corinna Kaarlela

—Center Made Possible by Gift from the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund—

—Tipper Gore to Chair Leadership Council for New Center, a Groundbreaking Partnership Between UCSF and the City/County of San Francisco—

SAN FRANCISCO, (May 23, 2007) - The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) today announced one of the largest single donations ever given to an American university for child and adolescent mental health services—$25 million that will jump-start the creation of a comprehensive program dedicated to improving the emotional well-being of Bay Area youth, regardless of socioeconomic status.

The Pritzker Center at UCSF will combine and expand the nationally recognized programs and services of San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center (SFGH) and the specialty clinics, training and research of UCSF’s Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute (LPPI) into one cohesive program and building.  The collaboration builds upon the successful partnership between UCSF and the City and County of San Francisco, an academic/public partnership like few others in the world.  The new Center is named for donors Lisa and John Pritzker.

“We can have a positive impact on the well-being of our community if we treat mental illness in children.  Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. About one out of every five children and adolescents has a diagnosable mental disorder, and the vast majority of them do not receive any type of mental health treatment. San Francisco alone has about 6,000 vulnerable youth who are not getting the mental health care they need,” said David Kessler, MD, dean of the UCSF School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs at UCSF. “Tipper Gore’s lifelong commitment to improving mental health and eradicating its stigma will be of great value to the people of San Francisco and the success of this project.”

Mrs. Gore is chair of the Center’s leadership council, a support committee comprised of advocates for child and adolescent emotional well-being and mental health.  In addition to serving as former President Clinton’s mental health policy advisor, Mrs. Gore is founder of Tennessee Voices for Children, a coalition to promote the development of services for youth with serious mental health problems.  She also has been public about her own personal experience with depression. 

“With 80 percent of children who need mental health services going untreated, our youth are facing a mental health crisis of catastrophic proportions,” Mrs. Gore said.  “By creating a model that emphasizes comprehensive care, eliminates barriers to access and trains caregivers in the latest practices, The Pritzker Center at UCSF will pave the way for other communities to begin to address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens; needs that must be met to ensure these children can become contributing members of society.”  She added, “I am delighted to work with a premier academic institution such as UCSF whose basic and clinical research has the potential to fundamentally change and improve the field of children’s mental health nationally.”

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said, “The mental health programs of San Francisco General and LPPI are nationally recognized and excel in service and training in their separate and unique areas of expertise.  Combining them in a single facility will unleash their potential to provide a full array of services to our City’s youth.  Enhanced training programs will prepare more providers to address the compelling needs of urban youth in San Francisco and beyond.  I am thrilled to support the new Pritzker Center in making urgently needed services accessible to the most vulnerable.”

Child Mental Health Diagnosis and Treatment a Growing Problem

Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 (footnote 1).  Currently, 10 million American children—one in five—suffer from diagnosable and treatable mental illnesses (footnote 2), more than AIDS, leukemia and diabetes combined.  Most of these children get no treatment or inadequate treatment, putting them at risk for school failure and dropping out, alcohol and drug use, teenage pregnancy and criminal activity; 90 percent of children who commit suicide have mental disorders (footnote 3); and the cost of untreated mental illness in the U.S. is more than $100 billion each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. 

“Through years of volunteer involvement with the child trauma programs of San Francisco General Hospital, I have seen the demand for mental health services continue to skyrocket.  Despite the clear need, there is a real lack of funds to care for these children,” said Lisa Pritzker.  “The surgeon general declared children’s mental health as a national priority in a year 2000 report, but these programs are still underfunded, with the majority of our nation’s mentally ill youth going without the care that could make the difference between growing into a healthy, successful adult or not.” 

John Pritzker added,  “With this gift to create The Pritzker Center, we hope to make that difference for Bay Area children, especially those who are underserved, at-risk and in need of culturally sensitive approaches.”

For the children who do get treatment, there are long delays, often years, between the first onset of symptoms and when they seek and receive care.  In San Francisco alone, approximately 6,000 vulnerable youth are currently not getting needed mental health services.  Yet early intervention and treatment are critical to addressing mental health needs and preventing years of suffering and the risk of illnesses becoming more severe and treatment resistant. 
“Many children actually have overlapping problems and multiple disorders, making proper diagnosis and treatment a complex puzzle that requires team work and collaboration among healthcare providers,” said Miriam Martinez, PhD, associate clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics in the UCSF School of Medicine; director of the division of infant, child and adolescent psychiatry at SFGH; and who will be the executive director of The Pritzker Center at UCSF.  “Being together under one roof in the new Center will facilitate cooperation across disciplines, expedite diagnosis and treatment and help prevent the all too common and tragic delays that can result in a fragmented system.”  She added, “We also have the opportunity to design the space for The Pritzker Center as a healing child- and adolescent-friendly environment in which patients and families can feel welcomed and safe while they are receiving care and support.”

In a single location, The Pritzker Center at UCSF will combine clinical child mental and emotional health experts in virtually every sub-specialty, including professionals specializing in the impact of domestic and community violence, sexual abuse and assault and post traumatic stress syndrome.  These experts represent an unparalleled breadth and depth of care.  Their proximity and collaborative model means that multiple perspectives will coalesce in diagnosis and treatment, creating a streamlined infrastructure that does away with the “maze.”  The treatments delivered will represent the newest therapeutic models, based on evidence from clinical studies. 

Shortage of Child Psychiatrists Impedes Progress

Today there are fewer than 7,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists in the U.S., with the need projected at 30,000, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists.  Northern California needs 1,000 more, yet the three regional training programs produce just 13 to 15 child psychiatrists per year.  This shortage demands a multidisciplinary solution of better trained psychiatrists, psychologists and pediatricians.  In addition to clinicians, academic child psychiatrists and psychologists who can conduct research specific to the young patient are needed. Currently, the understanding of childhood and adolescent psychiatric disorders lags 10 to 20 years behind the understanding of adult psychiatric disorders. 

“The Pritzker Center will enable us to expand training programs and address the national shortage of professionals, including those who are skilled in treating a multicultural, multilingual population. It also will expand desperately needed child-specific research efforts,” said Kessler.  “By integrating mental health services, from birth to young adulthood - across disciplines, demographics and between research and clinical care—the Center will have a real and tangible impact on child and adolescent mental health knowledge, prevention, diagnosis and treatment across the nation, if not the world.”

The Center is scheduled to open in early 2008 and will be housed at its own specially renovated 36,000-square-foot building at Third, 18th and Tennessee Streets along the new MUNI rail line in the easily accessed Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco. 

UCSF is a leading university that advances health worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences and health professions, and providing complex patient care.


1 National Institute of Mental Health, 2005 National Comorbidity Survey Replication Study.

2 Institute of Medicine, Research on Children and Adolescents with Mental, Behavioral and Developmental Disorders, 1989.

3 Shaffer, D., Craft, L. (1999), Methods of Adolescent Suicide Prevention, Journal of Clinical
Psychiatry, 60, (Suppl. 2), 70-74.

NOTE TO THE MEDIA:  In addition to experts quoted above, parents who have children currently in programs that will be transferred to The Pritzker Center at UCSF are available to discuss their diagnosis/treatment experience.


The Pritzker Center at UCSF #1

The Pritzker Center at UCSF #2

Additional media contact:

Mara Brazer, Brazer Communications

415-305-6677; [email protected]