BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A new research institute at Indiana University, made possible by a $3 million donation from the Jim Irsay family, has formally launched its mission to become a leading national center for addressing the stigma surrounding mental illness and other health issues such as HIV, epilepsy, cancer, dementia and addiction.
At a kickoff event for the new Irsay Institute on Thursday, IU President Pamela Whitten joined Kalen Jackson, vice chair and owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and Irsay family representative, and Bernice Pescosolido, Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the IU College of Arts and Sciences and director of the institute, to celebrate the opening of the institute’s newly renovated home in Morrison Hall on the IU Bloomington campus.
“The transformative research taking place at the Irsay Institute will allow IU to strengthen interdisciplinary research addressing stigma and other key health issues, while bringing several impactful campus-wide efforts under one umbrella,” Whitten said. “We are thankful to the Irsay family for their generous donation and commitment to equipping IU researchers to confront these pressing issues.”
Media kit: Access video and images from the launch event
The Irsay Institute consists of a founding faculty of more than 20 sociomedical scientists who are building connections between existing health-related social science programs, centers and researchers on the IU Bloomington campus and at the IU School of Medicine to target innovations that translate into enhanced training, workforce development, policy change and program success.
Along with targeting stigma, Irsay Institute researchers are tackling issues of substance use disorder, sexuality and reproduction, the health care system, global health, and the effects of climate on health. While having a rich array of research areas, the Irsay Institute has a special connection to advancing the goals of the Colts’ Kicking the Stigma initiative, an effort to raise awareness about mental health and remove the stigma often associated with mental health disorders.
“When we decided to launch Kicking the Stigma and address the mental health crisis in our state and country, we learned quickly that some of the nation’s best research was already taking place right here at Indiana University,” Jackson said. “That’s why we’re so honored to partner with IU to support this vital work so future generations can approach mental health disorders with better understanding and compassion and have more outlets and resources to help those who are suffering.”
The Irsay Institute will further advance IU’s groundbreaking research and training on the stigma that pervades many health challenges, such as mental illness and reproductive problems, and deprives individuals of equitable treatment and adequate resources. It will also train more graduates to prepare them to enter the mental health field and will work toward local and national policy agendas related to mental health and stigma.
Since announcing its creation in 2021, the Irsay Institute has already made strides in tackling these issues. The institute has joined Whitten’s Student Mental Health Initiative, aimed at student mental health and well-being, and is expanding the evidence-based U Bring Change to Mind Program, created by Pescosolido, to all IU campuses.
At the national level, the Irsay Institute is partnering with organizations such as Project Healthy Minds, the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, Bring Change to Mind and the World Psychiatric Association’s Together Against Stigma program to enhance research on stigma around mental health.
Research being done through the institute also received two federal grants from the National Institutes of Health. The first funds researchers’ work with high schools in Colorado to understand the social roots of suicide clusters and help schools develop safety systems to prevent suicide and school shootings. The second is examining how social networks can affect healthy aging and slow down the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
With the support of the Colts and the university, Pescosolido said the Irsay Institute is primed to become a national leader in pressing health and health care issues that impact the daily lives of Hoosiers and people throughout the world.
“We are grateful for the vision and generosity of the Colts, the continued support of IU for the social sciences, and the graciousness of those people and partners that participate in our research to improve health,” said Pescosolido, director of IU’s Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research and an elected member of both the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. “Through this collaboration, we have been able to develop new opportunities to escalate our scientific, policy and community efforts to improve the health of Indiana and the U.S. more broadly. With our new space in Morrison Hall and continued partnership with the Indianapolis Colts, our researchers, teachers and students will be able to push further and faster.”