Hoag ASPIREs to Provide Teens with Mental Health Care

ADHD, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental health disorders plague today’s teens more so than those of prior generations. In response, the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag has taken several steps to help teens and their families navigate the darkness of mental health issues.

In Newport Beach, and now also in Irvine, Hoag has introduced the acclaimed ASPIRE program, which stands for After-School Program for Interventions and Resiliency Education.

An evidence-based intensive outpatient program, ASPIRE treats the challenging transition into adulthood, and the associated stresses and mental health conditions, including possible co-existing self-medication or substance abuse for youth between the ages of 13 and 17.

ASPIRE is held after school hours, four days a week for eight weeks. The program uses dialectical behavioral therapy and expressive arts to help teens develop and practice healthy behaviors and coping strategies. ASPIRE builds interpersonal relationships through educational groups, skills groups and weekly family meetings, requiring parents or guardians to participate during the course of the program.

The ASPIRE program started at Hoag, with the support of the generous donor community, and is becoming part of a collaborative initiative that includes Hoag, Mission Hospital and CHOC Children’s.

“Like the nation as a whole, Orange County has witnessed troubling growth in the number of teens in our communities who are not receiving the help they need for depression and other mental health issues,” said Sina Safahieh, M.D., board-certified in child and adolescent psychiatry, and program director of ASPIRE at Hoag. “The resources we offer through ASPIRE provide teens and their families with effective tools and resiliency training to overcome current mental health concerns, navigate future life stressors and thrive.”

The hospitalization rate for major depression among the county’s children and youth increased 117 percent between 2005 and 2014. Two-thirds of depressed teens don’t receive access to the care that could help them – or even save their lives.

“Treatment for teens needs to be instituted early, and be evidence-based rather than too little, too late,” said Michael Brant-Zawadzki, M.D., F.A.C.R., senior physician executive and the Ron & Sandi Simon Executive Medical Director Endowed Chair of the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag. “Hoag is using this unique program for adolescents to combine clinical intervention by a multidisciplinary team of specialists with prevention training that strengthens future functioning for the entire family. We understand that when parents and teens come to us, they’re asking -- and expecting -- help that works from a trusted source.”

Researchers say a youth’s environment coupled with genetic predisposition, and in some cases self-medication by substance abuse, likely plays a key role in the development of mental health issues: Peer pressure, social media’s outsized influence on how youths view and compare themselves to others, and real or imagined pressure all can be factors, according to mental health experts.

The support, early intervention tools and access to care in the ASPIRE program are designed to accompany the services of a psychiatrist who is board-certified in working with children and adolescents. The psychiatrist provides leadership to the program as well as assessment and diagnosis through personal sessions.

Warning signs of suicidal ideation include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

For more information, call 888-229-3078 for Newport Beach or 888-241-5677 for Irvine.