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UCLA Depression Grand Challenge (UCLA DGC): Humanizing and Destigmatizing Depression

The Regents of the University of California (UCLA Depression Grand Challenge)

Non-profit organization

A key UCLA DGC focus is raising awareness & hope, by understanding stigma & developing targeted strategies to defeat it. We propose an event series to spark conversation & empower LA to humanize depression. Discussions will inform digital media campaigns to be disseminated throughout LA & beyond. We will inspire participants to serve as advocates who share their experiences more broadly, putting real faces to the varied realities of those living with depression & those close to them.

Vote for this proposal

Vote by April 29, 2019. You can cast five votes, one per goal category. Learn more about public voting.



What does your organization do?

Depression is the world’s greatest health problem: it’s common, it disables, it kills, it’s costly, & it’s not well-treated. UCLA leads an effort to understand, prevent, & treat depression.

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

You may be wondering how UCLA became focused on depression. The DGC is one of two UCLA Grand Challenges. There were a number of drivers that led UCLA to start a Grand Challenges initiative in 2012:

  • increasing UCLA’s impact

  • inspiring larger interdisciplinary teams

  • increasing the visibility of UCLA’s excellence

  • demonstrating UCLA’s contributions to society

  • engaging the public

We began with a pilot. Could we bring faculty members together and have them collectively identify a specific societal Grand Challenge to solve? At the start, we had no funding allocated for this effort & we were the 1st campus to declare its intent to solve a SMART-framed (Specific, Measurable, Aspirational, Relevant and Time-bound) issue.

Our pilot focused on the brain. We invited approximately 30 neuroscientists to a brainstorming session. They were asked, “what might be possible if money were not an obstacle?” We emerged with three topics and created workgroups that met weekly for 20 weeks. Depression became the focus of one of these groups; participants were motivated by a recent report by the World Health Organization projecting that, by 2030, depression will become the greatest single contributor to the global burden of disease.

This workgroup proposed that UCLA lead a world-wide effort to cut the burden of depression in half by 2050, and eliminate it by the end of this century. They recognized that UCLA was uniquely positioned to make a difference with basic, translational, and clinical neuroscience as well as social science and humanities expertise that would enable us to address depression from its biological underpinnings to the clinic, and the community at large.

Campus leadership chose to focus on depression because:

  • It is very common: 1 in 5 people are affected over their lifetimes

  • It disables: #1 cause of disability, worldwide

  • It kills: 1 person dies of suicide every 30 seconds

  • It is costly: > $200B cost to US economy annually

  • It is not well-treated: ¾ are undiagnosed or ineffectively treated

The UCLA DGC was publicly announced in late 2015. Other universities now look to UCLA as a model for moonshot-focused research. They too are inspired to partner with their communities to solve specific issues.

Which of the live metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Rates of mental illness
  • Resilient communities

Will your proposal impact any other LA2050 goal categories?

  • LA is the healthiest place to CONNECT

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Westside
  • While the digital campaign will reach residents of the City of Los Angeles and beyond, we have not yet confirmed sites and partners for the 6 regional events. We expect to host them in different parts of the region, featuring one on the UCLA campus but others more widely dispersed.

How will your project make LA the best place to live?

Our proposal aligns with a concurrent UCLA strategy to build an advisory council for the Awareness & Hope component of the DGC (A&H Council). We recently engaged Ann Wang, UCLA alum & strategist, to help us build this council of thought leaders & local influencers. In collaboration with the council, we will execute three intertwined deliverables:

(1) Host approximately 6 salon events;

(2) Create & disseminate digital media campaign materials about depression; &

(3) Mobilize advocates.

We plan to leverage existing UCLA & new A&H Council relationships with both media & nonprofit entities to form partnerships to do the following:

Salon Event Execution: We envision connecting with various advocacy organizations, leveraging the existing DGC Leadership Council & new A&H Council to select partners for each event & build invite lists. Salons will be intimate gatherings of ~30 thought-leaders from diverse industries, backgrounds, & cultures across LA. They will provide a forum for conversation, problem-solving, & creative expression, plus a venue for capturing images & stories. Each event will have a custom experience for participants, designed to break down walls & elicit strategies. Custom experiences may include poets drafting haiku and other artists capturing people’s stories of depression/suicide. We target the first 5 events to be held within the first 8 months of the grant period. The 6th event either will follow a prior format or adopt a new format to accommodate more participants from the various communities together.

Digital Campaign: We envision creating a digital campaign featuring depression, one story at a time, inspired by the “Humans of New York” portrait series. Using editorial photography & interview content gathered at the salons & independently through partnerships, we will share stories on Instagram, Facebook, & YouTube. These portraits will feature a diverse group that ranges from celebrities, entrepreneurs, & athletes to everyday people who describe the highs & lows of their journeys. Our goal is to humanize these stories to provide understanding, inspiration, & empathy regarding depression. Content to be routinely uploaded through the grant period.

Mobilize Advocates: Through the salons & the digital campaign, we will identify and mobilize a group of advocates to disseminate the digital content, bring knowledge back from their communities, & generate partnerships that further help us shatter the stigma around mental health.

Addressing stigma is critical for the UCLA DGC broader goal of enabling all Angelenos who need treatment to obtain it, & also for building more resilient individuals & communities, helping Los Angeles reach the aspiration of being the best place to Learn, Create, Play, Connect, & Live. Through partnerships, a coordinated & branded campaign, & authentic content, we will erode the stigma & shame affiliated with depression.

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Pilot project (testing a new idea on a small scale to prove feasibility)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

Because the #1 goal is to humanize and disseminate powerful stories about depression and resilience, we plan to measure the number of stories shared, page views, click-throughs, likes, and comments on social media and existing platforms. To achieve this objective, we will carefully design every campaign and all content to be trackable online in order to analyze social media impressions and audience reach.

Other metrics that will be used to define and measure the project’s success include the following:

  • Partner buy-in to create 6 event experiences.

  • Identification of a platform and branding for content coming out of this set of projects.

  • Active engagement of participants at events, including the sharing of personal stories and/or engaging in event activities.

  • Positive feedback from event participants collected via surveys.

  • Collection of a cross-section of people’s personal experiences with depression through various channels that illustrate to Angelenos that depression does not discriminate, that it can affect anyone, and that it touches nearly everyone’s lives.

  • Success with leveraging new and existing relationships to inform and solicit content.

  • Enlisting participants and others to serve as advocates for Awareness and Hope, beyond our planned events.

  • Adoption of programming/campaigns by influencers and partner organizations who may not have this type of advocacy as a core business function.

  • Investment by other organizations or individuals to support the broader Awareness and Hope agenda.

  • Stretch goal metric: Increased interest on the part of groups and organizations in implementing the UCLA DGC scalable treatment model measured by inquiries and requests for meetings, though it may be hard to determine whether those inquiries are coming as a result of these activities or others.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Access to LA2050 community
  • Host public events on the topic your organization’s issue area (e.g. access to capital, education reform, clean energy, etc.)
  • Communications support, including traditional media, social media, and LA2050 newsletter
  • Publicity/awareness
  • Strategy assistance and implementation
  • We are open to any and all types of partnerships with LA2050.

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