Obit written by Professor Ian Hickie, Brain and Mind Centre Co-Director
In February, the life of one of the most engaged supporters of our mission at the Brain and Mind Centre, Michael Jenkins Crouch AC, ended after a short illness. A celebration of his most active life was held at St James Church, Sydney on the 20th of February. It was attended not only by Governors, Governors-General and a former Prime Minister but also people from all walks of Australian life. Michael was recognised nationally particularly for his philanthropic support of innovation, cultural institutions, rural and regional Australia, Children’s Health and Medical Research and Mental Health.
The Brain and Mind Centre has been directly supported by Michael to establish two Professorial Chairs. We have appointed an international expert, Professor Markus Leweke, to the first Chair in Youth Depression Studies. He is now based at our Camperdown campus and working in partnership with Sydney Local Health District. His position also works directly with our national NHMRC-supported Centre for Research Excellence to develop highly personalised treatments and our linked clinical trials and e-health platforms for young people with emerging major mood and psychotic disorders.
We will shortly make an appointment to the second position, the Michael Crouch Chair in Child Mental Health. It will be based at the Children’s Hospital, Westmead. Right up until his death, this was the appointment that Michael was most keen to discuss. Like many other Australians, and particularly grandparents, he was staggered by the numbers of children and young people now affected by serious mental health problems, self-harm and suicidal behaviour. Having always been such an active and engaged individual, he struggled to comprehend the extent to which a young person could develop such a distorted view of their own worth or future potential.
As noted by his son George Crouch, in his most down-to-earth eulogy, Michael had a rather simple and straightforward philosophy – “don’t focus on the problem, find the solution.” In our ongoing discussions of the ways that we at the Brain and Mind Centre might best respond to the now-widely recognised societal ramifications of poor child and youth mental health, Michael was uncompromising. Basically, ‘find the best people, conduct the relevant research, engage Governments as partners in supporting the best long-term solutions’.
As George also noted, his father was never interested in ‘me too’ solutions to complex problems. He expected those he worked with in business, research and public life to explore seriously real alternatives to the currently-accepted approaches. He believed that Australians were just as capable as any other national group at genuine discovery and innovation. Michael’s challenge to us was to lead the world in developing 21st Century solutions and not use excuses like our small size, lack of national investment or the complexity of the problem stand in the way.
Not all of Michael’s investments in our area were well known. He did not seek fame from his philanthropy. He saw them as strategic investments. Along with others, he was an active supporter of a key Professorial Position in Mental Health Nursing (now filled by another international recruit, Professor Niels Buus) focused on developing family-based care solutions for those with persistent mental illness.
Through his engagement with the development of the BMC, Michael Crouch, has set a benchmark in terms of our engagement with philanthropic supporters. These are not simply gifts to our institution, but genuine societal investments and major opportunities for innovation. A clear focus on ‘finding the solution(s)’ and not restating the problem(s) must remain at the centre of all our activities.
As articulated clearly by Professor Max Bennett AO when I joined the University of Sydney in 2002, the daily task is for us (researchers, teachers, clinicians, administrators) to walk through the same doors as those affected by illness, and their families, and together find common solutions. Due to the enduring support of people like Michael Crouch, that daily task is possible.
Like many other Australians, and particularly grandparents, he was staggered by the numbers of children and young people now affected by serious mental health problems..