URMC targets early intervention in mental health

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

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

Intercept—Interventions for Changes in Emotions, Perception and Thinking—targets those at high risk for the imminent development of psychotic disorders. The UR Medicine program follows a specialized care approach targeting 15- to 28-year-olds who present with the earliest signs of what may develop into a serious mental illness, officials say.

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

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

“Like any illness, early identification and intervention leads to better outcomes,” says Silverstein, professor of psychiatry, neuroscience and ophthalmology at URMC. “Unfortunately, the tendency in mental health is to wait until there’s a crisis; that is, an initial psychotic episode. Yet, it’s far better for the patient if that 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 can include individual and group therapy, problem solving, social skills training and goal planning. These components are designed to minimize disruptions to school, work and relationships.

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

The Patrick P. Lee Foundation chose URMC to serve as a central 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 say.

“We feel strongly that we’re bringing something new to this community that is lacking,” says Jane Mogavero, executive director of the foundation. “Yet, we’re also providing connections and trainings for professionals so that they can collaborate and increase their expertise. This clinic offers wrap-around services, helping patients and families forge strong support systems—which can be the difference between an illness advancing or not.”

Intercept’s mental health advisory council, with representatives from Upstate New York, expects to guide the initiative. The council’s members are:

■ Rita Cuda, BestSelf (Buffalo)

■ Zhanna (Jane) Elberg M.D., Erie County Medical Center (Buffalo)

■ Margery Stanton, BestSelf (Buffalo)

■ David Dodell-Feder, UR (Psychology)

■ Michael Scharf, M.D., URMC (Psychiatry)

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

■ Wanda Fremont M.D., SUNY Upstate Medical Center (Syracuse)

■ James Demer M.D., New York State Office Mental Health (Syracuse)

■ Nevena Radonjic M.D., SUNY Upstate Medical Center (Syracuse)

■ Vijay Mittal, Northwestern University

While psychotic episodes can’t be avoided every time, delaying them has benefits. Intercept’s approach allows for help with life skills when challenges of living and recovering from mental illness become difficult. A long stretch of altered brain behavior and function can make it tough for people to function as they did before.

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

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