Two Fairfax County organizations have united on a program that provides immediate help to young adults who have recently experienced their first psychotic episode.
The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board and PRS, a nonprofit mental health service provider, launched Turning Point last year to help stabilize young people 16 to 25 who have recently had a psychotic break, officials said. The outpatient program aims to improve clients’ chances of long-term recovery by helping them during the onset of their illness.
“Clients who live with mental illness can and do recover when they are given the right set of medications, skill training and supports in the community,” said Wendy Gradison, chief executive of PRS.
A first psychotic episode can be difficult to recognize, because symptoms vary from one person to another, said Tom Schuplin, director of special projects for PRS. In cases of paranoia, a person might walk into a store and think everyone is looking at him. In more serious cases, a person might hear voices or see things that aren’t there, he said.
Such experiences are frightening and confusing, said Laura Yager of the Community Services Board. Turning Point tries “to get to them fast and get them the help they need,” including proper medications and family counseling, she said. The program also provides skills training and support to help clients return to school or employment.
The key to recovery is early intervention, Schuplin said. “Research shows that when you can lower the duration of untreated psychosis, you get really good outcomes,” he said. “People are going to be healthier, they’re going to have fewer symptoms, fewer hospitalizations and can be managed on lower doses of medications.”
Turning Point, based in Merrifield, currently has 13 clients, and can accommodate up to 35 at present staffing levels, Schuplin said. The program receives state and federal grant money, and clients are charged a monthly fee based on their ability to pay, he said.
The staff includes a psychiatrist and specialists who provide educational and occupational support. Educational support specialists help students organize their work and develop realistic timelines, Gradison said. Other clients receive help with their résumés and interviewing skills, to help them find suitable employment, she said.
Schuplin told of one Turning Point client, a college senior who had a psychotic break that led to his hospitalization during final exams week. He already had a job offer and needed to complete two exams to graduate.
Turning Point worked with him and his family within 30 days of his episode, Schuplin said.
“He was able to pass [the finals], and now he’s working at the job he had lined up. . . . He is doing really well now,” he said.
Not all Turning Point clients are as fortunate; some have required a second hospitalization, Schuplin said.
“One of the more challenging things is helping someone understand the importance of taking medication,” he said.
Schuplin said it gives clients a sense of hope to be able to meet with a peer — someone who has also experienced a psychotic episode — who can share his experience. That’s where peer specialist Joseph Coram comes in.
Coram, 27, said he had “a severe mental disturbance” seven years ago, which motivated him to learn more about mental illness. “I had this real thirst to make sense of everything that had happened,” he said.
Coram was working on a graduate degree in mental health counseling when he learned that Turning Point had an opening for a peer specialist. He decided to put his studies on hold and take the position.
“It was just the perfect job,” he said. “To have the chance to help people understand and walk through something that is a terribly lonely experience — I couldn’t really ask for a better job than that.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.
For information about Turning Point, visit the website turningpointcsc.org or call 703-383-8535 and ask for the Turning Point program.