ANOTHER VOICE: Youth Mental Health: EASA, and what every parent should know

Did you know that three out of 100 individuals have some form of psychotic illness? It usually develops gradually in the teen years or early 20s. Untreated, teens and young adults with psychosis are often unable to transition to adulthood. They often fail to maintain their family ties, lose their homes, their ability to care of themselves, their family and community support, and their ability to protect themselves from harm. With early treatment and support, families stay together and young people become successful adults.

An important fact parents should know is that young people who experience psychosis usually develop it between the ages of 15 and 25. Psychosis is when a person sees or hears things others don’t (hallucinations), or can include bizarre ideas inconsistent with reality (delusions), which may contribute to disorganized thinking or unusual behaviors.

The illness is caused by an imbalance of brain neurotransmitters. Early signs may include a significant drop in school or work performance; social withdrawal or a sudden change in friends; significant sleep changes; unfounded fears that others are trying to cause harm; or changed perceptions such as colors becoming more intense or hearing voices when no one else does. Psychosis is often mistaken for drug use, and people experiencing psychosis may turn to drugs to deal with symptoms.

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Fortunately in Hood River, Wasco and Sherman counties the EASA program (Early Assessment and Support Alliance) offers help when psychosis first begins. EASA offers access to counselors and doctors who are creative, flexible and persistent. Their goal is to identify psychosis and to provide information, support and effective treatment to the person and family before the consequences begin.

When 17-year-old Paul (not his real name) was referred to EASA, his parents were ready to kick him out because he was getting angry and had punched his father. An athlete with good grades, Paul had stopped seeing friends and wasn’t going to school. His parents thought it was drugs. They didn’t know that he was hearing voices and seeing things that confused and frightened him, and which he perceived as being caused by others. He was unable to read a complete page because of symptoms, and couldn’t keep up in school.

The EASA counselor knew how to approach Paul, and learned about these unusual experiences. He convinced Paul to see a doctor and explained what was happening to the family. With the right treatment and support, Paul completed high school, and is working and taking college classes.

So learn the signs, spread the word, and call right away if a young person you know starts showing possible signs of psychosis. Anyone who calls EASA can receive problem solving and information.

EASA provides outreach, support and treatment regardless of ability to pay. With an educated community and the help available, our teens and young adults can get the medical care they need and remain full contributors to society.

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Liz Barteld of Hood River is a mental health therapist for the EASA program at Mid-Columbia Center for Living, serving Hood River, Wasco and Sherman counties.

For more information or to make a referral call 541-296-5452 or 541-386-2620.

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