What role can and should schools play in mental illness prevention?
Early identification and treatment of serious mental illness in young people between the ages of 12 and 25 can greatly mitigate its worst effects, and mental health research demonstrates that even those with strong genetic origins can be contained, if not stopped, before they start.
Dr. William McFarlane, who has been working on this issue since the 1970s, and advocating for cooperation with school systems since the 1980s, is the brains behind much of the findings. His Portland Identification and Early Referral (PIER) program in Portland, Maine trains community members to recognize possible mental health problems in young adults. Young people are given a two hour assessment test and those who meet a certain threshold on the test get into Multi-Family Group psycheducation, and have access to therapy, social workers, nurses, and medication.
The model spends about $3,500 per pupil a year, but compared to $150,000 for hospitalizations it seems like money well -spent. The program has seen so much success that it recently got $15 million in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
“The notion that we may be able to prevent psychosis from developing in young people with early symptoms is a big idea,” says Jane Lowe of RWJF, “one that, if effective, could avert untold pain and disability and even save lives.”
The PIER project and other research suggests that the brain is not as unpredictable and ungovernable as we tend to approach it, and that community involvement for early detection can be very successful.
Staying Sane May Be Easier Than You Think [TIME, 6/10/09]
Mitigating Mental Illness in Youth and Young Adults [RWJF]
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