New UMDNJ Program for Teens, Young Adults Experiencing First Psychotic Episode

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – What happens after a teenager or young adult experiences his or her first psychotic episode? It can be an isolated instance, never to recur; become a life-long, continuous battle against a ferocious illness; or symptoms may emerge periodically for years.

Research shows that, on average, there is a lapse of one to two years between the onset of psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia, delusions, loss of motivation for many everyday activities, and hallucinations, and the start of treatment, typically an in-patient hospitalization. Rates of suicide, noncompliance, and denial of treatment are high in first episode patients, but few services are specifically tailored for this population.

Starting this month, state-of-the-art treatment will be available to these young people as inpatients. The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-University Behavioral HealthCare (UBHC) and UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School have teamed up to create FIRST — Fostering Individual Recovery through Supportive Treatment.

Christopher Kosseff, president and chief executive officer of UMDNJ-University Behavioral HealthCare, commented, “It is particularly satisfying to introduce this approach to treating psychosis among young adults to New Jersey. Our team is excited at the opportunity to have a positive impact on their lives much earlier than has been the case.”

This program is the first of its kind in New Jersey and among a small group of similar programs nationwide.

“Treatments commonly used for older patients are just not appropriate for younger people who, generally, are transitioning from a functional state, not dealing with a chronic issue,” explained FIRST Consultant Steve Silverstein, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and director of the division of schizophrenia research at UMDNJ-University Behavioral HealthCare.

A six-bed inpatient unit, located within the UBHC facility at 671 Hoes Lane in Piscataway, N.J., has been dedicated specifically to treating FIRST patients, ages 18 to 30 years. A multidisciplinary team, comprised of psychiatrists, psychologists, clinicians, nurses, creative arts therapists, social workers, activity assistants and other mental health specialists, will provide comprehensive care that includes assessments, education for patients and their families, and individual and group therapy.

“Through early intervention, with a multi-disciplinary team alongside family and peer support, this program looks to initiate hope and confidence that recovery is a viable outcome in young adults afflicted with psychiatric disorders,” said Jose Vazquez, M.D., unit chief, Acute Adult Psychiatric Services at UMDNJ-University Behavioral HealthCare.

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 6,000 students attending the state’s three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health on five campuses. Annually, there are more than two million patient visits at UMDNJ facilities and faculty practices at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, which provides a continuum of healthcare services with multiple locations throughout the state.