MN quietly gives a boost to mental illness treatment

Being a parent is no easy task. But being a parent who doesn’t know what to do about a child showing signs of mental illness is a horror in itself when you don’t know what to do or where to turn.

A new program in Minnesota got scant attention during the legislative session. Lawmakers approved funding for a program offering early detection and treatment of psychosis in young people.

It wasn’t a lot of money as these things go — $1 million. But it’s a huge step, the Star Tribune’s Chris Serres reports today.

The goal is to reach young people before their illness progresses to the point where it’s far too difficult to treat.

Through local grants, the state hopes to create a network of early outreach and psychosis prevention programs in areas of the state with high concentrations of youth homelessness, suicides and poverty. The initiative will be modeled on a highly successful program at the University of Minnesota that is considered pioneering for its engagement of family members.

“I’m hoping this is a game changer,” assistant Human Services Commissioner Jennifer DeCubellis said in an interview. “It’s small dollars now, but it enables us to show that … life trajectories can be turned in the opposite direction.”

Psychosis is notoriously difficult to detect early in its onset. Often, it surfaces in early adolescence with disorganized thinking and memory problems. Without treatment, a young person can descend into delusion and isolation, making their condition less manageable. Many lose their ability to focus on school or work. Often, the symptoms go untreated until a young person is hospitalized.

In a study to be published later this year, the National Institute of Mental Health found that people ages 15 to 40 who experience their first episode of psychosis go a median of 74 weeks without treatment.

Serres documents a program at the University of Minnesota that helps parents recognize psychosis and how to deal with it.

An example: How to converse when a child begins speaking words that don’t make sense.

“Try not to be judgmental,” cautioned O’Sullivan, as the parents scribbled notes. “If you saw someone with a broken leg who was limping, you would probably not say, ‘Stop limping!’ ” He encouraged parents to have their children repeat information back to them, even when it didn’t appear to make sense.

That may not seem like much, but it’s information, advice, and help in an area of our childrens’ health that can seem impossible to find.

“With other physical ailments, there’s a pretty clear scenario — you have pain, and here are some remedies,” the father of one young man said. “But with psychosis, there is a lot of fumbling around, … and the lack of ­clarity is the scariest thing. You never know what’s going to happen next.”

Typically, the Strib’s comments section is a bucket load of ignorance.

“Unless a crime has been committed, mental disease is not the state’s business, this a medical matter for the families,” says one. “That is what you sign up for when you have family.”

Another says the program might help stop school shootings by delusional teens, ignoring the fact that people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence.

But ignorance about mental illness dies hard. At least the Star Tribune put the story exactly where it needs to be today: on the front page, where it’s harder to ignore.