Stopping Schizophrenia in its Tracks

By Darcy Gruttadaro, Director, NAMI Child and Adolescent Action Center
FROM NAMI BLOG

For those experiencing psychosis, early identification and intervention matter—a lot. It lessens the long-term severity and often prevents psychosis from worsening. An effective early identification and intervention program should include the following coordinated array of services and supports:

  • Supported education and employment.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Peer support.
  • Family support and education.
  • Case management.
  • Community outreach.
  • Low dose antipsychotic medication.

These services work so well because they are offered together to provide the skills and support that youth and young adults need to get better. They also take into account the context of a young person’s life and the key role that peers and families play in recovery.

FEP programs reduce costly hospitalizations and put youth and young adults with psychosis on an early path to recovery.

When you fund upstream interventions, you can prevent the tragedies associated with untreated mental illness: school failure, unemployment, hospitalizations, homelessness, jail and suicide. Investing in effective programs that intervene early produces far better outcomes for individuals, families and communities.

There are effective strategies available, so why aren’t more young people getting help? One of the main reasons is that these services and supports are simply not available in communities. However, there has been progress made recently that to help ensure the availability of these resources in more towns and cities across the U.S.

One significant event is that Congress has now required states to use 5 percent of their Mental Health Block Grant for First Episode Psychosis (FEP) programs. This means that states are obligated to set aside a certain amount of their federal funding to address the importance of early intervention.

How Is NAMI Helping

We recognize the urgency in expanding these programs. Our advocacy work and involvement in these programs is happening at all levels of the organization.

NAMI NYC Metro is partnering with OnTrackNY, an FEP program, in providing support groups and peer support for youth and young adults experiencing early psychosis. NAMI Connecticut is offering peer-run young adult support groups located close to FEP programs to make it easy for young adults to join. NAMI Minnesota has partnered with an FEP program and is creating education and support programs for youth experiencing early psychosis and their families.

Oregon was an early adopter of these services and supports, having witnessed the success of these programs in Australia. Tamara Sale, the director of the Early Assessment and Support Alliance (EASA) in Oregon and a former long-time NAMI Oregon board member, shared how their program works successfully with youth and young adults experiencing early psychosis.

The EASA program recognizes that it can be difficult to engage youth and young adults experiencing early psychosis, so it uses strategic community approaches that meet young people where they are with messages of hope and relevance to their lives. They are flexible and persistent, even with youth and young adults that seem entirely uninterested in mental health care.

What You Can Do

FEP programs exist in a handful of communities and more must be done to spread these programs across the country. Here is how you can make sure that happens.

  • Learn more about FEP programs. Understand why these programs are pivotal in creating better outcomes.
  • Email or Tweet your Congressional members to thank them and to ask for their continued support of FEP programs.
  • Connect with your NAMI Affiliate in advocating at the state and federal levels for FEP programs so that youth and young adults experiencing early psychosis can access effective services and supports.

We can and must change the trajectory of people’s lives by intervening early with recovery-oriented and effective services. We simply cannot afford to wait.

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