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Montana awarded $263,000 grant to provide early intervention for mental illness services for youth and young adults

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January 10, 2017

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936

               Arianna Snyder, Public Relations Specialist, Billings Clinic (406) 657-4645


Montana awarded $263,000 grant to provide early intervention for mental illness services for youth and young adults

Program will target those age 16-25 experiencing first episode psychosis


BILLINGS - Today, Governor Steve Bullock announced at Billings Clinic that Montana has received a $263,000 federal grant to launch a new mental health treatment program that will provide a wide range of intensive services to youth and young adults suffering from their first psychotic episode. 

Groundbreaking research by the National Institute of Mental Health has shown that if left untreated, young adults experiencing psychosis are more likely to develop serious mental illness such as schizophrenia.

The goal is to reach those age 16-25 who are experiencing this condition, and provide them with intensive wraparound services provided by a team of experts. The idea is to engage patients with these services before their condition worsens over time. Experts say a program delivered this way has not been available in Montana until now.

“Today’s grant announcement is big news for Montana,” Governor Bullock said. “We know that people often experience psychosis early in life, but it often goes untreated. If we can connect our young people to services earlier, then it can make all the difference in the world. This proactive program has shown great success in other states, and I’m thrilled it’s now available in Montana.”

The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), in collaboration with NAMI Montana, partnered to secure the grant and will contract with Billings Clinic and the South Central Regional Montana Mental Health Center (MHC) to offer the new service beginning early in 2017.

Psychosis is the medical term used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality. Mental health experts say the condition often begins when a person is in their late teens to mid-twenties. The longer it goes untreated, the more serious it becomes. Symptoms can include auditory or visual hallucinations, like hearing voices, or delusions, such as a belief of being watched or controlled.

“This new program is so important because we’ll be able to identify and then treat patients much earlier and with more intensive services than we have before,” said Zoe Barnard, DPHHS Addictive and Mental Disorders Division Administrator. Barnard noted that untreated mental illness can lead to suicide, high rates of school dropout, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, arrest, and incarceration.

In the U.S., studies show that the average delay from first symptoms of psychosis to treatment is well over a year. This program hopes to reverse that trend in Montana.  

“The effects that psychosis has on youth and young adults when left untreated are devastating,” said Carl Eby, Associate Director of MHC. “Our hope is that this grant partnership will impact the lives of individuals by providing evidence-based support to improve their quality of life as adults.”

National estimates reveal that about 15 people per 100,000 suffer from psychosis, so about 150 Montanans could eventually benefit from this program if it’s expanded later on. As the program ramps up in the first year, it will primarily serve a corridor between Billings and Bozeman, and all the counties in between. It’s estimated that as many as 50 people could be found eligible for the program initially from the Bozeman to Billings corridor, which was chosen because of the high concentration of individuals in the target population.

Most patients who enter the program will remain on average for about two years. Previous experience from other states has shown that treatment time spent on the front end can help avoid more expensive treatment costs down the road once the illness progresses, such as at the Montana State Hospital. 

The Montana program will use an evidence-based model that resulted from a recent federal study called Recovery after an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE).

Dr. Eric Arzubi, Chair of Psychiatry at Billings Clinic, explains the current method of treating young patients in Montana suffering from psychosis is limited to medication. Research from the RAISE study showed much better outcomes when a team of professionals are wrapped around the work of the psychiatrist.

In this case, Dr. Ana Stan, psychiatrist with Livingston Healthcare, who is an expert in the treatment of psychosis and directed a similar program in Texas, will be joined on the team with professionals from Billings Clinic and the South Central Montana Mental Health Center. Other team members will include an individual resiliency counselor, family therapist, case manager and an employment specialist. The team will focus on not only helping the patient treat and manage the disease, but will also help the patient find housing, employement, or if the patient is in school – help them stay in school. The group will also work with the patient’s family to help them manage their loved one’s condition.

The team will also benefit from a national contractor who will provide staff training, technical assistance and other resources to the team. The goal is to ensure the patients receives these services as close as possible to their home community. Dr. Arzubi says that will be possible as the team will be able to deliver services to the patient in the community in which they live, while other services can be delivered via telemedicine.

Dr. Arzubi says the grant also includes access to a national expert in treating first episode psychosis, who will provide staff training, technical assistance and other resources from other states who are implementing similar programs. He said staff are excited to launch this program, and hope to expand it to other parts of the state in the years to come. “That is our goal,” he said. “We’re excited to be able to provide this service in Montana, and move this effort forward.”

Referrals are expected to come from patients or family members. Billings Clinic is also partnering with NAMI Montana, who will help make referrals and will serve as an advocate to patients enrolled in the program.