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Recognizing Mental Illness

Can mental illness be prevented?

When we discuss mental illness we usually only talk about what experts call “tertiary prevention.” That’s the work done at hospitals and in prisons long after a person has been severely affected by a psychotic illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Tertiary prevention aims at to prevent patients from becoming completely overwrought, or even dying, of their mental illnesses.

But now the state is paying more attention to secondary — and possibly even primary — prevention.

Secondary prevention is practiced at EAST, the Early Assessment and Support Team in Salem. This program serves youth during the early onset of psychotic symptoms, which may include delusions, hearing voices, or simply not being able to sleep or concentrate. Legislators seem to like this model: in the last regular session they earmarked funds to expand this program across the state. EAST-like programs — whose names are still to be determined — will be coming to counties across state (including Multnomah, Washington, Deschutes, Clatsop, Columbia, Union, Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam, Jefferson and Crook) very soon.

Meanwhile, primary prevention is beginning to make its mark on Oregon as well. At OHSU, Dr. Norwood Knight-Richardson is exploring how genetics and family make-up can lead to everything from psychosis to much more prevalent disorders like depression, anxiety and alcoholism.

As part of OPB’s ongoing mental health series On Our Minds, we explore whether mental illness — or perhaps its worst effects — can be prevented with early intervention. Do any of your own experiences, or those of loved ones, shed light on these questions? Do you know how to recognize the early stages of psychosis or depression?


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