August 22, 2005

New Early Detection Program in North Carolina

The University of North Carolina announced this week a that a new program to open in Chapel Hill this September is aimed at providing early treatment to adolescents and young adults who have experienced psychosis for the first time.

The new program, called OASIS (Outreach and Support Intervention Services), was developed by the Department of Psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine. OASIS is unique in the United States in its emphasis on tailoring early identification and treatment to young people and their families at the start of a psychotic disorder.

The program was developed by a multidisciplinary team at UNC--Dr. Diana O. Perkins, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine and director of the Schizophrenia Treatment and Evaluation Program (STEP) at UNC Health Care, Dr. David Penn, associate professor of Psychology, and Bebe Smith, director of outpatient services at STEP.

"Schizophrenia doesn't have to be a disabling illness. The intention of our program is to help young people who experience psychosis to recover and get their lives back on track," said Dr. Perkins. Dr. Sylvia Saade, director of OASIS, said, "We will provide a comprehensive team approach with program participants and their families included as part of the team." Dr. Penn said, "We hope to create a sense of community in our program."

Schizophrenia is the most serious and disabling of all mental illnesses, affecting all aspects of a person's life. It strikes about 1 percent of the population, about 83,201 people in North Carolina, most often first appearing in late adolescence and early adulthood. The economic cost of schizophrenia in the United States has been estimated at $65 billion a year, with $19 billion of that in direct treatment costs.

Researchers have found that the sooner medication therapy begins after the onset of psychosis, the better the patient's outcome. However, it usually takes more than a year for someone with early psychosis to be diagnosed and begin treatment. Moreover, most existing mental health services in the United States are not specifically designed with the needs of young people who are experiencing early psychosis in mind.

UNC's OASIS is modeled after early psychosis programs already in place in Australia, England, Canada and Norway. These programs focus on engaging young people in services and on minimizing disruption in young people's lives. They work to reintegrate young people into mainstream work and educational activities, with minimal reliance on traditional mental health programs. These programs have shown remarkable positive outcomes, including avoidance of hospitalization for many participants, sustained long-term remission of symptoms and the resumption of normal school or work activities.

OASIS is located at 110 Conner Dr., Suite 4, near University Mall in Chapel Hill. For more information, call (919) 929-2311. The program will officially open on Sept. 6.

OASIS is partly funded by grants from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, The Duke Endowment, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the Herman Goldman Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation.


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