The University of Rochester Medical Center recently opened an early intervention mental health clinic which is the first of its kind in upstate New York.
Known as INTERventions for Changes in Emotions, Perception and Thinking (INTERCEPT), the program is for people at high-risk for the imminent development of psychotic disorders, especially schizophrenia.
Located at 2613 West Henrietta Rd., the clinic works with individuals and families to prevent the onset of a psychotic episode when possible — ideally before an initial hospital stay — and improve outcomes when not.
The clinic was made possible by a $770,000 grant from the Patrick P. Lee Foundation, a private, family foundation committed to achieving immediate and measurable impact in the areas of education and mental health.
The local program is led by psychologist Steven M. Silverstein, who created a similar early-intervention program at Rutgers University.
“Early intervention is key,” Silverstein said.
Addressing a mental health situation early on cannot only reduce or eliminate hospital stays but can drastically impact the course of one’s treatment and quality of life, given that mental health conditions can impact everything from work and school to relationships and independent living, he said.
Silverstein — who earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University at Buffalo — previously worked at URMC before being recruited back for this program.
In addition to serving as the clinic’s director, he is a professor of Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Ophthalmology, as well as 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.
He noted that similar early intervention clinics are found in other countries, including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom – as well as in New York City, but there are no others in New York.
The INTERCEPT outpatient 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.
The age range covers the period of when roughly 90 percent of people develop initial symptoms, he said.
The team at INTERCEPT includes specialists in child/adolescent and adult psychiatry and offers ways to prevent progression to more serious conditions.
Treatment components can include individual and group therapy, problem solving, social skills training and goal planning.
Even if an episode can’t be avoided, delaying it has benefits, since that allows for further development of life skills that can be relied upon when coping with the challenges of living with and recovering from a mental illness, Silverstein explained.
He pointed to research that indicates that the average duration of untreated psychosis prior to hospitalization is 18 months. Such long periods of altered brain function and behavior changes make it more difficult for people to return to prior levels of functioning.
“Unfortunately, the tendency in mental health is to wait until there’s a crisis; that is, an initial psychotic episode,” Silverstein said. “Yet, it’s far better for the patient if that can be avoided – and it often can.”
Silverstein would ultimately like to have similar locations in Buffalo and Syracuse. The Rochester site currently serves people throughout upstate and Western New York, and it does offer some telehealth services.
Though based in Buffalo, the Patrick P. Lee Foundation strategically selected URMC to provide a central point to serve residents from Syracuse to Buffalo. The foundation also has an established URMC relationship, funding scholarships for psychiatric nurse practitioners as well as engineers.
“We feel strongly that we’re bringing something new to this community that is lacking,” said Jane Mogavero, Patrick P. Lee Foundation executive director. “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.”
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