Q&A with Kenneth Eisenberg

Click here to read the press release re. the Eisenberg family's gift: U-M Depression Center to be named for Eisenberg family, in recognition of $30M in giving 

Kenneth and Frances Eisenberg
Photo: Ron Lieberman Photography


There are many causes that you support and that you’ve impacted through your philanthropy. Why did you decide to focus on the Depression Center at the University of Michigan when considering a transformational gift?

With the pandemic, we are finally talking about how central mental health is to our everyday lives. There is a growing awareness about how pervasive conditions like depression are across the nation. There’s promise in that awareness. Depression, in all of its forms, has robbed millions of people of joy, purpose, relationships and even lives.

Frances and I wanted to provide a gift that would exponentially grow the potential to change millions of people’s lives for the better, as well as provide momentum to the incredible work that The Depression Center at University of Michigan is doing in this area. It’s a message of hope and promise of better lives for millions.

What message would you like to share with others who want to make a difference, but don’t have the resources to make a gift of this magnitude?

Everybody can make a contribution. They can educate themselves and understand this illness. They can lend a kind ear or a word of support.

One of the most important parts of the Depression Center will be its ability to communicate with others to diminish the stigmas that can become attached to mental illnesses and recognize that depression and mental illness is a disease, not a character flaw. We have the ability to help people get better.

You made a transformational gift to the Depression Center in 2016. What progress and advances has the center made in the time since that inspired the naming gift?

Research has increased by leaps and bounds. Screening procedures have advanced. And we’re excited to see the emergence of targeted treatments and precision therapies that go well beyond the blunt tools that some may associate with depression therapies of the past.

There have also been exciting discoveries on what some of the causes may be for depression, as well as gene therapy innovations that hold so much promise to improve lives.

You’ve spoken in the past about the stigma of mental illness. Do you think that stigma has lessened in recent years as more people understand depression and related diseases?

Yes. The reality and impact of the pandemic has shown us that we need to take this disease more seriously, particularly in young people. It has helped in the reduction of the stigma, being accepted as a disease that can affect anyone at any age at any time. The more we accept and acknowledge that it touches all of us, the more we can understand ways to help.

What impact do you hope your gift will have on the understanding about the causes and treatments of mental illnesses?

Our hope is that this gift will not only energize research, but also play an important role in clinical applications. It is our true wish that access to mental health treatment will become easier and less mysterious to the general population.

We wish to educate the public that this disease can be helped and that people can recover and lead successful, fulfilling lives. It is our hope that the gift will energize the medical systems and restore the many lives that have become unbearable to normalcy.

As a family legacy, Frances and I are very pleased that our son Stephen and my sister Sue Ellen Eisenberg also sit on the National Advisory Board to the Depression Center. We are thrilled that our family will remain committed to this very important effort as the Center continues to grow and do its most valuable work. 

As a side note, along with Frances and myself, both Stephen and Sue Ellen are graduates of University of Michigan!

You’ve worked closely with Dr. Greden for many years. Talk about that relationship, as well as your thoughts about Dr. Sen taking over the leadership of the center.

Dr. Greden has been at the forefront of the Depression Center for many years. He led the battle to increase funding and research enabling the center to grow dramatically. I’m certain that Dr. Sen will very capably assume the mantle of leadership. His new perspectives are very exciting and I believe our future looks promising.