Mental health experts have come out in support of a new city health initiative aimed at linking New Yorkers to care when they first display symptoms of mental illness. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
The nation's healthcare system is in a time of transition with the focus shifting from institution-based care to communities. City health officials are responding to that trend, particularly when it comes to care for the mentally ill.
"We will be reaching out to individuals when they're admitted to the hospital for the first time with a psychotic illness, then link them to ongoing care in the community," says Mental Hygiene Executive Deputy Commissioner Dr. Adam Karpati.
The program is called First Episode. If the change in health code is approved, hospitals will be required to report when a patient between the age of 18 and 30 is admitted for the onset of psychosis. The Health Department then contacts the patient in an effort to connect them to treatment.
"We're trying to both help individuals and their families understand the illness, cope with the stresses and then navigate the mental health system," Dr. Karpati explains.
On Tuesday, the city Health Department held a hearing on the proposal. The majority of mental health experts present offered their support, pointing to growing evidence that psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia and other disorders can be treated effectively, if identified early.
"If it's timed appropriately a person doesn't need to receive mental health treatment chronically," says Briana Gilmore of the New York Association for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.
Dr. Adam Karpati, who heads up the city's Mental Hygiene department, says the program would target the estimated 2,000 new cases of psychotic illness that crop up each year.
"This is an opportunity to prevent the serious consequences of mental illness," Dr. Karpato says.
It's estimated that about 60,000 city residents live with psychotic illnesses -- many of whom are well past their first episode. Some argue a similar policy should be extended to that higher-risk population as well.
"We should be focusing on those who are most likely to become homeless, commit suicide, arrested, incarcerated, or hospitalized, and those are people who've had previous multiple hospitalizations," says Mental Illness Policy Organization Executive Director DJ Jaffe.
The city Board of Health will vote on the proposal in December.