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New Research to Help Youth with Mental Disorders Transition to Adulthood

Science Update

As young people with mental health disorders transition from adolescence to adulthood, they frequently face new and difficult challenges such as the loss of state-issued benefits like Medicaid and foster care, or loss of family-based insurance coverage. Unfortunately, many are not prepared for the abrupt transition and may not be able to effectively manage their disorder on their own. They may experience a relapse, be hospitalized, or end up homeless or in prison.

Several new NIMH- funded grants will examine these issues, and work toward developing better ways to help young people with mental disorders successfully enter adulthood.

  • Curtis McMillen, PhD., of Washington University in St. Louis, will develop and test a treatment foster care model, adapted from Chamberlin's Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care, to help older youth with serious mental health problems who are living in group settings become independent adults. Youths will be removed from the group setting and placed with a treatment foster family. They will be provided therapy and services to help them understand and manage their own mental health care, plan for the future, gain opportunities for employment and learn independent living skills.
  • Maryann Davis, PhD., of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, will adapt Multisystemic Therapy (MST) to help older youth (ages 18-25) with serious mental health problems transition to adulthood and avoid criminal offending. MST is an established intervention program for juvenile offenders that emphasizes integral family involvement in redirecting wayward youth. In this context, it will be adapted to place more emphasis on the young person taking the lead to change his or her behavior. In keeping with the MST program, a multidisciplinary team will be involved in the young person's treatment and help him or her learn and implement work, social and independent living skills.
  • Aude Henin, PhD., of Massachusetts General Hospital, will develop a new type of cognitive behavioral therapy designed to help 18-24-year-olds with bipolar disorder effectively manage their disorder; avoid risky behavior such as substance abuse, gambling, dangerous driving, risky sex, or suicidal actions; and enhance independence by teaching them problem-solving and social skills. The group intervention is intended to be an adjunctive therapy to medication.
  • Eric Slade, PhD., of the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, will examine the mental health records of 11,000 young adults ages 18 to 26 who were authorized to receive specialty mental health care in Maryland's public mental health system. Slade will assess the young people's use of primary care and mental health services, use of psychotropic medications, and overall mental health care costs over an 18-month period between 2004 and 2005. By providing information about how young adults use mental health services and primary care during the transition between youth and adulthood, the study may help inform future strategies that promote continuity of care for disadvantaged youth transitioning to adulthood.

Colleen Labbe