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Early intervention funding sought for those diagnosed with schizophrenia

Nancy Howe’s son was a well-liked musician and athlete when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 16. After his first psychotic episode, however, he became isolated and his family struggled to find support, she said.

In the following decade, he has been repeatedly hospitalized and can’t work because of the illness. While he receives “basic county services,” they took years to get into place, Howe told the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee Tuesday.

Had a program been in place to provide early intervention, however, things could have gone differently, she said.

HF1404 would provide that early treatment and support for people experiencing their first psychotic episode, enhancing legislation passed in 2015, said Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar), the bill sponsor.

It was approved and referred to the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee as amended. Its companion, SF1121, sponsored by Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), awaits action by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

HF1404 calls for $750,000 in both Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 to fund special projects that would provide intensive treatment and support to young adults with schizophrenia when they experience a psychotic episode for the first time.

Programs would include medication management, care coordination, education for the individual and their family, employment and educational support, cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills training, crisis planning, and stress management.

Funds could also be used to pay for the housing and travel expenses of young people in rural Minnesota who would otherwise be unable to access the resources.

Part of the program would focus on community outreach, not only to make sure that primary care providers and college health clinics know about the program’s existence, but also to provide training on identification and screening tools, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s state chapter.

Sometimes, care providers may hesitate to diagnose a psychotic episode because “psychosis” is “such a heavy word,” delaying the beginning of treatment. People suffering from a psychotic episode often take more than a year to get treatment, and could spend as long as three months waiting to get into a program, she said.

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