URMC is focused on early intervention in mental health

In an effort to prevent psychotic episodes and improve patient outcomes, the University of Rochester Medical Center is launching a new mental health early intervention clinic.

Created with a $770,000 grant from the Patrick P. Lee Foundation of Buffalo, Intercept is the first clinical high-risk program in upstate New York, officials say. The Lee Foundation is a private family foundation focused on education and mental health.

Intercept—Interventions for Changes in Emotions, Perceptions, and Thinking—Targeted for Those at High Risk for Immediate Development of Psychotic Disorders. The UR Medicine program follows a specialized approach to care aimed at 15- to 28-year-olds who have the earliest signs of what could develop into a serious mental illness, officials say.

Common symptoms of people at risk, in addition to sadness, anger, and irritability, include withdrawal from friends and family, loss of motivation and decreased interest in activities, and difficulties at school and work. Early intervention can affect the course of treatment and quality of life.

Steven Silverstein of URMC will lead the Intercept, which is located at 2613 West Henrietta Road. He is known for developing treatment programs for people with or at risk of psychotic disorders.

“Like any disease, early identification and intervention leads to better outcomes,” says Silverstein, professor of psychiatry, neurology and ophthalmology at URMC. “Unfortunately, the trend in mental health is to wait until a crisis occurs; this is an initial psychotic episode. Still, it is much better for the patient if it can be avoided – and it often can.

Intercept allows patients and families to meet with mental and physical health providers to create a course of treatment tailored to the individual, often at the first sign of symptoms. Treatment may include individual and group therapy, problem solving, social skills training, and goal planning. These components are designed to minimize disruption to school, work, and relationships.

“Identifying people at the earliest stage, before potentially irreversible effects on the brain and psychological function occur—and before the need for high-dose antipsychotic drugs—is critical,” says Silverstein, who is also George’s Professor of Biopsychosocial Medicine L. Engel, director of the Retina and Brain Center and associate chair for research in psychiatry at URMC. “These drugs often have serious side effects such as sedation and weight gain.”

The Patrick P. Lee Foundation chose URMC to serve as a focal point for residents from Syracuse to Buffalo. The foundation also has an established relationship with the medical center, funding scholarships for psychiatric nurse practitioners as well as engineers, officials said.

“We feel strongly that we’re bringing something new to this community that’s been missing,” says Jane Mogavero, the foundation’s executive director. “However, we also provide connections and training for professionals so that they can collaborate and increase their expertise. This clinic offers comprehensive services by helping patients and families build strong support systems – which can be the difference between the disease progressing or not.”

Intercept’s Mental Health Advisory Board, with representatives from upstate New York, is expected to lead the initiative. Council members are:

■ Rita Kuda, BestSelf (Buffalo)

■ Dr. Jeanne (Jane) Elberg, Erie County Medical Center (Buffalo)

■ Marjorie Stanton, BestSelf (Buffalo)

■ David Dodel-Feder, UR (Psychology)

■ Michael Scharf, MD, URMC (Psychiatry)

■ Arielle Sheftall Ph.D., URMC (Psychiatry)

■ Wanda Fremont MD, SUNY Upstate Medical Center (Syracuse)

■ James Demer MD, New York State Office of Mental Health (Syracuse)

■ Nevena Radonjic MD, SUNY Upstate Medical Center (Syracuse)

■ Vijay Mittal, Northwestern University

While psychotic episodes cannot be avoided every time, delaying them has advantages. Intercept’s approach allows for help with life skills when the challenges of life and recovery from mental illness become difficult. A long period of altered behavior and brain function can make it difficult for people to function as before.

Kill Jacob is managing editor of the Rochester Beacon. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy, including using their full real name.

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