How Families Going Through a Mental Health Crisis Should Be Helped


Families whose youth or young adult begins to show signs of psychosis are plunged into a chaotic and frightening world. The confusing and usually very changed son or daughter is hearing voices, is extremely fearful, withdrawn or is even sometimes aggressive. Exactly where to find help in most communities is not at all clear — and in fact, most communities have yet to adopt practices that hold hope and support and mental health interventions that are geared toward working with just these “early psychosis” dynamics.

One state that has a very different look to it is Oregon. Nearly 20 years ago, some visionary professionals read about the work of a psychiatrist in Australia, Patrick McGorry, who had developed an approach that seemed like what families and their young person needed. The program that they developed was called EAST — Early Assessment, Support and Treatment. It evolved into its own model over the next couple of years and was clearly successful in restoring health and functioning in school and early work. One example of this success was a young man who had been a popular high school athlete began to talk “strangely,” became angry easily and distrustful of his father. There was an incident in which he began to threaten his father with a shovel in the family’s backyard. The family was referred to EAST and, to make the story short, two years later he had completed nursing school and was working as an RN.

These kinds of stories should be typical in all parts of the country. During my tenure as Oregon’s state mental health commissioner, I placed a $4.3 million request into my budget and worked with the EAST program and key community partners to get the funding approved to expand EAST into what became the EASA Center for Excellence. EASA now provides clinical training and consultation to every county in Oregon — 27 local projects in all. It helps these projects connect with family physicians, schools and other community resources to help families know about and get involved with them.

The Center for Excellence is based at Portland State University’s School of Social Work and the key trainer and researcher, Dr. Ryan Melton, has agreed to present a webinar describing how the programs work and the research data on the outcomes from the nearly two decades of experience in Oregon’s approach — one of a kind in that it is the only program accessible to virtually all families in the state regardless of income or insurance coverage. The webinar will be online and live on April 28. More information is available here. Early registration is encouraged because capacity is limited to 200. The webinar will be available a few days after April 28 for those who cannot participate in the live event.

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