AltaPointe Health launches First Episode Psychosis program

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Psychosis is the onset of a serious mental illness and includes symptoms such as seeing and hearing things that others do not, strange or bizarre beliefs, or disorganized thinking. Early intervention can help people with psychosis live healthy, productive lives and manage their symptoms effectively.

AltaPointe Health FEP staff

Growing up, I struggled with a spectrum of mental disorders. I was unaware of the impact it was going to have in my adult life. Working as a First Episode Psychosis program youth peer specialist allows me to be the person I needed during my recovery.

Psychosis is the onset of a serious mental illness and includes symptoms such as seeing and hearing things that others do not, strange or bizarre beliefs, or disorganized thinking. Typical diagnoses include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar with psychotic features. Yet many people with a serious mental illness do not get the proper diagnosis or treatment.

However, early intervention can help people with psychosis live healthy, productive lives and manage their symptoms effectively. AltaPointe’s new treatment program, First Episode Psychosis, provides treatment to patients and is seeing much success. There are only three FEP programs in Alabama: one in Jefferson County, one in Huntsville and the one at AltaPointe Health. AltaPointe received program certification in 2020. Staff members work with young people between the ages of 15 and 25 who are experiencing their first psychotic episodes.

“The great thing about the program is that we can wrap them with services since it is a team approach. We have an intensive care coordinator, an employment/ education specialist, a youth peer, family peer support, a nurse and myself as the therapist/coordinator,” said Sarah Currie, LICSW, First Episode Psychosis coordinator. The program is very tailored to young people so that the staff can be responsive to their treatment needs. Haleigh Zirlott, FEP youth peer specialist, says the program is an invaluable resource for teens and young adults dealing with the pressure of serious mental illnesses.

“Growing up, I struggled with a spectrum of mental disorders. I was unaware of the impact it was going to have in my adult life. With lack of psychoeducation and little support, I felt stranded, defeated and tired,” Zirlott said. “Throughout my experiences with mental illness, I’ve learned the key factors to a better quality of life. Being a youth peer specialist allows me to be the person I needed during my recovery.”

LaChendara Grasper, parent peer support specialist, brings personal experiences and learned knowledge to families participating in the program. “A majority of the circumstances they are learning to cope with, I can understand. A mental illness diagnosis can be frightening for the young person and their family. My role allows me to relay resources, available options, and support towards mental health stability.”

For more information on the First Episode Psychosis Program, visit altapointe.org.

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April Douglas
@AltaPointeHS
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