Talk with a health educator - MaineHealth Learning Resource Center Find health information - MaineHealth Learning Resource Center
MaineHealth - About Us
About Us

2003 Press Releases

First-in-Nation Mental Health Program Receives $1 Million

For more information contact:
Gail Wilkerson
Spring Harbor Hospital
(207) 761-2200

(February 3, 2003) — Can serious mental illness in young people be prevented? William McFarlane, MD, psychiatrist and researcher at Maine Medical Center, says grants in the amount of $1million will help prove that it can.

Recently a matching grant for $500,000 over four years was awarded to Maine Medical Center by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. The grant recognizes the promise of the hospital's Portland Intervention and Early Referral (PIER) program, which is the first program of its kind in the nation that has the potential of halting the early progression of schizophrenia and other severe psychotic disorders in young people across an entire community, in this case Greater Portland.

PIER has secured its matching half of the funds for the first two years of this project from UnumProvident Corporation, The Betterment Fund, The Bingham Program, the Francis Hollis Brain Foundation, the American Psychiatric Foundation, and the State of Maine Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services. Maine Medical Center will continue its efforts to secure its share of matching funds for the remaining third and fourth years of the project from local funders.

"We are extremely grateful for the grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation," says Dr. McFarlane, "and for the strong support we continue to receive from private and public funders in the community."

Launched in May 2001, the PIER program combines professional and public education and clinical treatment in an effort to prevent the onset of the psychotic phase of serious mental illness in young people, and perhaps stop the illness in its tracks. PIER is based upon research in the UK, Australia, and Scandinavia that suggests that youth, who generally have better brain elasticity, are the most sensitive to treatment for mental disorders at the earliest stages of their illness. That is why the focus of PIER is on young people, ages 12 to 35.

"There is increasing evidence that psychotic episodes physically damage the brain," says Dr. McFarlane. "Repeated over time, this damage can lead to profound, chronic disability. PIER aims to prevent that damage before it starts or to intervene before mental illness becomes disabling. The anticipated outcome is healthier youth, healthier families, and healthier Maine communities."

Key to the success of the program is educating those who work most closely with young people to identify the early warning signs or active symptoms of major psychotic disorders. The program's mental health specialists have trained a referral network of primary care providers, pediatricians, community agencies (including law enforcement), and educators and counselors in area high schools and colleges.

The PIER team also educates the public about warning signs and symptoms through an aggressive promotional campaign that has included advertising in local newspapers and movie theatres. Team members are presently planning to create materials specially designed for those with limited English proficiency.

As a follow-up to their educational efforts, PIER clinicians evaluate and treat at-risk youth referred from the community using a combination of family intervention and education, as well as medication where appropriate, to prevent further disability.

The PIER model's unique approach to improving mental health in Maine led to its placement among only 19 proposals funded through The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Local Initiative Funding Partners program last year.

"This program holds the promise of becoming a national model," says Pauline M. Seitz, director of Local Initiative Funding Partners, a national program office of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "The collaboration in working with mental health agencies, school counselors, college writing teachers, the business community, and law enforcement represents a high level of innovation."

PIER's results to date are indeed promising.

Approximately three percent of the general population is at risk for serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. That translates annually to about 75 young people in the Greater Portland area.

In its first year of service to the community, PIER received 274 referrals from families, mental health agencies, hospitals, clinics, and schools in the Greater Portland area. Of that number, 27 individuals met PIER's treatment criteria and were still engaged in treatment three months after their referral to the program.

"Our first-year results are encouraging," McFarlane notes. "We are pleased with this outcome and look forward to reporting further success over the coming years."

The grants received by Maine Medical Center will enable the PIER program to continue its work for the next four years. According to McFarlane, the total $1 million investment has the potential of creating a ten-fold return for each individual the project serves.

"The lifetime cost of caring for a single person with a severe long-term mental disability is estimated at $10 million," he says. "PIER aims to stem that cost while preserving the quality of life for individuals and families experiencing the early onset of mental illness."

Learn more about diabetes.
Care for a loved one.
Health Information

110 Free Street | Portland, Maine 04101 | (207) 661-7001