On October 21st The Baltimore Sun reported that Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council Member Robert W. Buchanan, M.D., will direct a new Center of Excellence on Early Intervention for Serious Mental Illnesses at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The Center will offer a multidisciplinary approach to identify people at high risk for developing psychosis, working with individuals between the ages of 12 and 30. The Center is being developed with $1.2 million in state funds that were appropriated as part of gun-control legislation that also seeks to augment programs to help the mentally ill.
Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality that involves experiencing delusions (false beliefs about what is taking place or who one is) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there) and is usually a symptom of a psychiatric illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Much recent research has shown that outcomes are better for patients if they are diagnosed early, based on early warns signs, rather than waiting to treat until after a full-blown psychotic episode occurs.
The majority of people afflicted with psychoses never commit violent acts, let alone the kinds of horrific, high-profile crimes that have made news headlines in recent times (e.g., VA Tech and Newtown, CT), said Dr. Buchanan, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical School. But he went on to explain that psychosis leaves sufferers at higher-than-normal risk for abusing alcohol and drugs, experiencing trauma and engaging in self-destructive and violent behaviors that make this “a critically important public-health aspect.”
According to Dr. Buchanan, The Center will act as an umbrella of several different elements including:
- Enhancement of existing school mental health programs (The Center for the School of Mental Health was established in the mid-1990s to study and improve mental health services in schools)
- Support of two first-episode psychoses clinics – one in Baltimore and one in Catonsville
- The rollout of a Clinical High-Risk Program to treat those with early warning signs before illness fully develops
Research over the past two decades has shown that patients respond better to treatment the earlier they are diagnosed. “If there’s a theme here, it’s that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of medicine,” says former NARSAD Grantee Jason Schiffman, Ph.D., a psychologist at University of Maryland Baltimore County and a lead member of the team rolling out the Clinical High-Risk Program.
Read the article in The Baltimore Sun.