John Pritzker hopes the gift he and his former wife Lisa Stone are giving Pritzker will be made … [+]
Photo courtesy John Pritzker
A major hurdle in treating mental health problems is reluctance in large parts of society to talk about it – whether it is an eating disorder, schizophrenia, or any other mental illness. John Pritzker, a billionaire from San Francisco, and his former wife Lisa Stone Pritzker are doing their part to change that: They are donating nearly $ 60 million to build a state-of-the-art psychiatric facility for UC San Francisco next to the university campus in the neighborhood Mission Bay. The building will house researchers, interdisciplinary academics and mental health services for patients of all ages.
Mental health is a personal problem for these philanthropists. The structure is named the Nancy Friend Pritzker Psychiatry Building in honor of John’s sister Nancy, who died of suicide during an episode of depression in 1972. “Nancy was a brilliant, fun, beautiful young woman who was struggling with mental health,” says John, who remembers that when his sister died no one spoke about it. Later, John said he and his younger sister Gigi had discussed Nancy’s illness and death, and “there was an enormous sense of relief. The more you talk about it, the easier it becomes to talk about it. “A major goal of this center is to reduce the stigma around discussing mental health problems so that more people can recognize them and seek treatment.
Nancy Friend Pritzker (d. 1972), after whom the new UCSF psychiatric building is named.
Photo courtesy John Pritzker
Lisa Stone Pritzker recalls how someone in her immediate family suffered from depression and how it affected her entire family. It also led her to volunteer in the psychiatric department at San Francisco General Hospital about 17 years ago. “I saw tiny children waiting for psychiatric care in cramped, poorly-lit waiting rooms, often sitting next to adults in dire distress,” she says. That led her to come up with a vision for a place with a more family-friendly environment. The new Nancy Friend Pritzker Psychiatry building, due to open this fall, will have its own children’s, youth and family center to create a welcoming environment.
Mental health is a national issue that was a tough topic during the pandemic. Almost one in five American adults lives with a mental disorder, while one in six children between the ages of six and 17 has such an illness, according to UC San Francisco. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among US teenagers.
However, mental health is also an area where great philanthropic gifts aren’t too common, especially when compared to gifts made to research a wide variety of cancers – although there have been some significant mental health gifts and pledges over the past decade. In 2019, the family of late billionaire Jon Huntsman announced a 10-year donation of $ 150 million to the University of Utah to help start the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. In 2014, Connecticut businessman and philanthropist Ted Stanley made a $ 650 million commitment to mental health research at Broad Institute, a Cambridge, Massachusetts research center that works with MIT and Harvard. And in 2012, New York real estate billionaire Mortimer Zuckerman pledged $ 200 million to establish a Mind Brain Behavior Center named after him at Columbia University.
Matthew State, chairman and professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at UCSF, says the Pritzkers donation enabled UC San Francisco to create a building from a blank sheet of paper and design it with an emphasis on patient care. “We will have physical and mental health care providers right next to each other,” he said, adding that for a patient with an eating disorder, for example, the psychiatrist and nutritionist will be in the same building, which is not the case. It was the norm. “The idea is to build care around the patients and families,” State explains.
John Pritzker comes from the Chicago-based family behind Hyatt Hotels, which is run by his brother Tom Pritzker. John sold his stake in Hyatt to relatives in 2010 and then built his own boutique hotel management company, known as Two Roads Hospitality after a merger in 2016. In late 2018, Hyatt bought Two Roads for $ 408 million plus a potential $ 96 million if certain results were achieved. John and Lisa Pritzker divorced in 2019; Lisa is a board member of UCSF.
If you or someone you know is at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.