Thanks to more than $4 million in collaborative federal grants, UNLV PRACTICE is offering coordinated specialty care to youth and young adults to address two mental health disorders and the critical need for more mental health services in the region.
The grants helped fund the creation of two evidence-based treatment programs for young people in the early stages of bipolar disorders and at high risk for psychosis. The programs operate at UNLV PRACTICE's new satellite location at 801 S. Rancho Drive, Suite D2, in Las Vegas, which specializes in treatment and care of youth mental health disorders.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded the grants earlier this year. Recipients are the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services in collaboration with UNLV PRACTICE, UNLV Health, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Nevada.
“This has been the result of the hard work of many people in the College of Liberal Arts, UNLV PRACTICE, our donors in the community, the state, and the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, School of Social Work, department of psychiatry and behavioral health, and department of psychology all coming together,” said Dan Allen, distinguished professor of psychology and the lead investigator on the grants.
“The collaborative nature of this project has been substantial and significant. I hope it sets a framework for other efforts moving forward.”
Meeting the Need
The first grant, funded at about $2.1 million over two years, helped create the Performance Optimization for Wellness, Empowerment and Resilience (POWER) program, an evidence-based treatment program for early bipolar disorders in youth age 15 and older who’ve had less than a year of treatment with antipsychotic or bipolar medications.
The second grant, funded at about $2.2 million over four years, launched the Nevada Clinical High Risk for Psychosis (CHR-P) Program for Youth. The program is patterned after an evidence-based model to treat individuals before they experience their first episode of psychosis. About $1.5 million is federally funded with $750,000 in matching funds, including a $225,000 donation from the Shear Family Foundation and in-kind contributions from various UNLV units.
Nevada is in a mental health crisis with a dearth of mental health providers and too few treatment options despite great need, according to Mental Health America. UNLV PRACTICE is tackling that need head on.
Continuum of Care
The bipolar treatment program has a goal of serving 40 unique clients per year. Services will last up to two years with more intensive treatment in the first six months that tapers off depending on clinical need. Clients will then transition to standard care in the community.
The program will provide psychiatry, family therapy, family education, peer support, education and employment support, and case management to help connect clients to key services to assist in their treatment and recovery, said Allen, who also serves as POWER program director. “We want to try to alleviate some of the negative consequences that we know occur when people go for long durations without having their symptoms treated,” he said.
The psychosis high-risk program is designed for adolescents and young adults age 12-25 who exhibit signs and symptoms that suggest they’re at high risk for developing a disorder such as schizophrenia but don’t meet the criteria or haven’t been diagnosed with schizophrenia or a related disorder. Those symptoms might include odd beliefs or unusual perceptions that are out of sync with reality such as believing others are out to hurt them, hearing unusual sounds that others do not hear, or seeing a face on the side of a mountain.
The program aims to serve about 30 unique individuals each year, Allen said.
The CHR-P program will expand on the current state program for first episode psychosis (FEP), which has sites in Carson City, Lake Tahoe, and Las Vegas, by providing evidence-based service to individuals before they have their first episode of psychosis. UNLV Health Mojave Counseling has run the Las Vegas FEP site for about 2.5 years. Nationally, similar first episode programs have been in operation for about 10 years.
UNLV PRACTICE’s programs represent a unique partnership that will offer a continuum of care under one roof, said Michelle Paul, psychologist and the Workday Endowed executive director of UNLV PRACTICE. “With the partnership with Mojave Health’s first episode program, the POWER program and the CHR-P program, it’s all under one set of people, which offers additional continuity of care.”
Serving Younger Clients
The new programming will make a difference because evidence shows that symptoms of mental health disorders present themselves at early ages, Paul said. “Rather than let kids and young people flounder without knowing where to go, we’re educating the public and doing a lot of outreach around the signs to look for. They can get a really good assessment, and either they get placement in the programs or they get connected with other services.”
Kids may develop mental health disorders for a variety of reasons, including anxiety, learning difficulties in school, depression, and trauma. Environmental stressors can interact with genetic predisposition to cause the onset of disorders too, experts say.
Early intervention may help stave off a more serious mental health trajectory and improve clients’ quality of life, Allen said. “If we can intervene early to help teach problem-solving and coping strategies and work with the families, research suggests this may decrease the number who go on to more serious illness.”
Offering the program in the context of a training clinic will also further develop Nevada’s mental health workforce, Paul said. “That’s our primary mission at UNLV PRACTICE — to increase access to affordable, high-quality, evidence-based mental health services while training the next generation of the workforce.”
They hope to expand the training component under the new programs to include postdoctoral fellowships and internships, Allen said. They are also developing training manuals to be shared with other mental health and community service agencies.
The expansion of treatment wouldn’t have been possible without the addition of the new Rancho Drive clinic, Paul said. The site opened in March with support from the Shear Family Foundation, Engelstad Foundation, and Eleanor Kagi Foundation: A Lynn M. Bennett Legacy. Paul credits community partners with the vision and deep commitment to improving mental health outcomes in Nevada. “Their generosity helped us get the satellite location up and running.”
The SAMHSA grants fund treatment programs only. However, thanks to funding from the Shear Foundation, researchers will begin collecting some preliminary data, which will hopefully fuel more federal funding, Allen said. “Treatment compliments the research, and the research compliments the treatment.”
Though the programs are community-facing, organizers hope the treatment programs will benefit UNLV students, too. “We have a campus of roughly 30,000 students who are in that age range where the onset of bipolar disorder is common,” Allen said. “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to help our students as well.”
About UNLV PRACTICE
The UNLV Partnership for Research, Assessment, Counseling, Therapy, and Innovative Clinical Education (PRACTICE) is a community mental health training clinic jointly run by the colleges of Liberal Arts and Education on the university’s main campus. Its mission is to provide low-cost, behavioral, cognitive, and mental health services to the community while providing faculty-supervised clinical training experiences for graduate students, and supporting mental health research by faculty and graduate students. The clinic celebrated 10 years of service and impact in Southern Nevada and expansion of services at its satellite location on Oct. 19.