President Meric Gertler (centre) with Arthur Labatt and his daughter Jacquie Labatt during an event announcing a $20-million gift from the Labatt family, at the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy PHOTO COURTESY OF NICK IWANYSHYN

The Labatt family has recently donated $20 million to U of T to support research into biological causes of depression. This field is regarded as the next frontier of depression research.

The donation has been used to create the Labatt Family Network for Research on the Biology of Depression, which also involves the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), both of which are partners of U of T. The network has established two chair positions at U of T with links to these institutions to further research.

Professor Benoit Mulsant of U of T’s Department of Psychiatry is serving as the inaugural Labatt Family Chair. According to Mulsant, the donation will fund more academic fellowships, help attract talent to U of T’s clinical research effort, and enable mentor residency opportunities. Mulsant’s research primarily focuses on the treatment of elderly people with severe mental disorders. He is also a Clinician Scientist at CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute.

In Canada, mental health-related research at large receives about one third of the money that is invested in cancer-related research. From 2008–2015, the Canadian Institute of Health Research invested about $44.7 million a year in mental health-related research, compared to $133.8 million a year for cancer-related research.

A myriad of biological factors can result in mood changes and trigger mental health issues. In the human body, the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system work in tandem, and any changes to these could result in behavioural changes that may manifest as depression or other mental health disorders. These changes can be wrought by physical stressors, like changing seasons, or psychological stressors, like abuse.

In 2007, the Labatt family donated $30 million to SickKids to support the Brain Tumour Research Centre and establish the Labatt Family Heart Centre, a facility dedicated to heart research, cardiology, and providing care for children with congenital heart disease.

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