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Davis, California

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

How mental health shapes younger generations

UC Davis Medical Center partners with local schools to promote early mental health detection services and treatment strategies.

Some people hear a phone ring only to realize that the phone never even made a sound. Others notice sudden shifts of movement when walking around a dark, unfamiliar setting. These experiences point to brief moments of psychosis — a collection of experiences impairing clinical, cognitive and functional capabilities. Only, these experiences fit within cultural norms. People experience them and quickly move on, overlooking a spectrum of psychosis experiences and the people who frequently come to face them, especially young adults.

Up to one in four individuals will experience psychosis-like moments in their lifetime, according to Tara Niendam, the executive director of UC Davis Early Psychosis Programs (EDAPT and SacEDAPT). Psychosis affects 2 percent of the worldwide population, with 31.7 new cases per 100,000 people each year.

Sacramento County alone reports that 475 new individuals experiencing psychosis each year.

EDAPT and SacEDAPT want to change the detection of early psychosis, in which individuals experience psychosis moments with the past two years, starting with youth in Sacramento schools. The program uses strategies to reduce the duration of untreated psychosis among schools. There is an app to screen students for treatment referrals and to provide mobile health engagement, increasing awareness and acceptance of mental health conditions among educators and families.

“It becomes hard for students to stay focused and listen in their classes,” said Jacqueline Rodriguez, the coordinator for Student Support and Health Services for the Sacramento City Unified School District. “The more we can intervene early, the more we can build resiliency and skills within students.”

The SCUSD is comprised of 27 sites. Four of its sites partner with SacEDAPT, training staff about early mental health awareness and how to recognize signs and symptoms with the goal of creating positive outcomes for students.

One in seven individuals who complete the psychosis screening tool were identified as experiencing psychosis-spectrum symptoms, such as social withdrawal, disorganized behavior and difficulty with memory or attention. Identified students are then referred to personalized psychological care and treatment at the EDAPT and SacEDAPT clinics.

“Students who face depression describe it as a feeling under a lead blanket,” said Khalima Bolden, the assistant director of the EDAPT and SacEDAPT programs. “You feel like you’re not engaged. They experience a drop in their grades and performance, but they don’t know why. These kinds of outcomes impact someone’s trajectory. Now, they have to do other things to compensate for this moment in their lives.”

EDAPT and SacEDAPT host workshops for teachers and education staff, increasing their awareness and understanding of mental health concerns facing their students, which enables them to spot eligible students for the psychosis screening and identify strategies to support them.

“Since the start of the early identification, educational staff have noted an increased understanding of mental health and empathy toward students encountering these conditions,” Rodriguez said.

Another barrier to mental health treatment lies in cultural stigma.

“For one woman, it took a year because her family wanted to try cultural intervention strategies,” Niendam said. “There was also a language barrier during the meeting, but also there were concerns with western medicine. There is a memory of institutionalization and there’s a lot of fear that is carried within great aunts and uncles.”

School psychologists and educational staff work together to validate students’ concerns and ensure that they are successful in their coursework.

“We need to take time to reduce the stigma among families,” Rodriguez said. “Building relationships starts with listening, being understanding and gathering information, including signs and symptoms, to share with SacEDAPT. The more we can educate them, the more we can prevent these problems from happening for our students and reduce stress within families.”

Families can therefore act as helpful support systems or sources of stress among students, based on the families’ relationship with the mental health system. By building relationships with families and recognizing their cultural values and the mental health stigma, students can receive the support they need to improve their mental health and stay on track with their education.

“We have a fragmented mental health system,” Niendam said. “It requires support in the same way that any medical system takes to treat diseases like cancer and diabetes.”

Written by: Foxy Robinson—science@theaggie.org

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