Alum donates $25 million to the United Nations University Institute for Suicide Prevention

Editor’s note: This story contains reports of suicides, a topic that will concern some readers.

A UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and his wife donated $25 million to the Department of Psychiatry at UNC School of Medicine to establish the UNC Institute for Suicide Prevention.

The institute will work to improve patient care in North Carolina and help health researchers better understand the neurobiology of suicide and how to prevent it.

UNU graduate William Starling and his wife Dana have donated in memory of their two sons, Tyler and Gregory, who died by suicide.

“Our two children are gone, and it is important that we acknowledge their wonderful and short lives,” William Starling said in a statement. “I’m not sure how to do this better than helping other families who may be struggling with their children in the future.”

National mental health crisis

The new institute comes as the nation and North Carolina grapple with an ongoing mental health crisis, especially among young adults, that has escalated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the work to tackle a public health crisis can be dark and tragic, this $25 million gift Provides a bright spot that will save lives locally and make a national impact.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in individuals aged 10 to 34 years nationally. More than 7,000 North Carolina residents died by suicide between 2016 and 2020, according to Data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. That is about 15 people per 100,000 inhabitants.

North Carolina ranked 42 out of 50 states in terms of resources devoted to addressing adolescent mental health, despite being one of the most populous states in the country.

“This funding will allow us to do a higher level of care and deliver a cutting-edge intervention, which will undoubtedly save lives,” said Samantha Meltzer Brody, a professor and psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina.

The UNC-Chapel Hill community has been grappling with a A mental health crisis on campus After the death of several students last fall. the University Add two days of luxury Until the fall academic calendar and integrate mental health content, resources and tools into New university curriculum.

While this institute will be housed in the UNU Department of Psychiatry, its services extend beyond students and staff.

“The bottom line is that on every level so many people suffer — rates of anxiety and depression have crossed the line, and the impact on adolescents and their development has been particularly massive,” Dr. Patrick Sullivan said in a statement. “The most prominent red flags are attempted suicide and people who die by suicide.”

Sullivan is world famous Professor of Psychiatry and Genetics at United Nations UniversityHe will be the new director of the institute. He said this is a “critical situation” because many measures of mental health have been worse over the past five years.

Patrick Sullivan unc.jpeg
UNC-CH Professor Dr. Patrick Sullivan will serve as director of the Institute for Suicide Prevention at the University of North Carolina. UNC Health

The UNC Suicide Prevention Institute will focus on the science behind the causes of suicidal thoughts and depression, improving clinical outcomes and education and outreach to the community to identify groups at risk of suicide. The goal is to reduce morbidity and mortality in patients with suicide across the UNC health system.

patient navigation system

The immediate impact of the Institute will be to identify people with active suicidal thoughts or attempts who come to UNC hospitals and health facilities, tag these individuals and develop a patient navigation system to ensure these people receive care and are carefully followed up.

This doesn’t happen as strongly as health professionals would like because the mental health care infrastructure is so sparsely spread out and people fall through the cracks, Meltzer Brody said.

The team is also working to create a model for using electronic health records to identify, track and intervene at risk individuals. The model can be exported to healthcare facilities across the country.

The research goal to understand the science behind people at risk will take more time, but so does Meltzer-Brody Optimistic that the school team of scholars and Psychiatrists will make great strides.

UNC students, faculty and staff can visit the is heel care net ( for mental health, wellbeing, and suicide prevention resources, including 24/7 support links. If you or someone you know is in a crisis or considering suicide, Call or text 988 Being connected to a mental health professional for immediate help or visit

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she has covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the Investigative Team, Foundation, and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky, and she was recently selected as a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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