Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute Expands Mental Health Offerings for Teens and Young Adults

The deterioration of adolescent and young adult mental health is chilling. Suicide, the second-leading cause of death for teens, has been on the rise every year for more than a decade. Depression and anxiety among people ages 18 to 24 during the pandemic hit 54%, and substance abuse for this age group rose along with it.

Recognizing this intense crisis, Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute (PFNI) has been taking a highly focused approach to address teen and young adult mental health in South Orange County.

Through evidence-based programs such as ASPIRE and the Young Adults Mental Health Program, as well as a partnership with several school districts, including Capistrano Unified, Hoag is helping teens, young adults and their families navigate the emotional challenges and mental stresses of this vulnerable time in a person’s life.

“The key to helping teens and young adults maintain their mental health is to keep them engaged,” said Prerna Rao, LMFT, clinical program manager with PFNI’s ASPIRE Program. “Our programs focus on improving their sense of self and to help them build strategies for emotional regulation and distress tolerance. They graduate from these programs with effective coping skills that they are encouraged to apply to their day-to-day lives.”

The After-School Program: Interventions and Resiliency Education (ASPIRE) is designed to help children between the ages of 13 and 17 who are experiencing emotional and neurobehavioral problems, including depression, anxiety, trauma and grief. ASPIRE teaches teens how to effectively regulate emotion and engage in healthy interpersonal relationships through education, training and active participation from teens and their families.

At the height of the pandemic, PFNI’s ASPIRE team spoke about teen mental health at the Orange County Department of Education and at the Professional Learning Institute, which drew an audience of 1,500 educators. Hoag’s PFNI also partnered with the Capistrano Unified School District for a speaker series titled “Helping Teens and Families Navigate Mental Health and Wellness.” Topics included COVID-19 and its impact on teen mental health, substance abuse, depression, anxiety and suicide.

Each presentation concluded with a question-and-answer session with a panel of mental health experts from ASPIRE at Hoag’s PFNI.

“The partnership between Capistrano Unified and Hoag afforded our students and parents the opportunity to work through the anxiety, grief and sense of loss that we all experienced during the early days of the pandemic and as the threat of COVID-19 wore on,” said Ryan Burris, chief communications and engagement officer of the school district.

“The pandemic put our resiliency as human beings to the test,” Rao said. “Parents are looking for help, too, and we have been honored to provide the information and resources people need.”

While the pandemic has affected us all, researchers found that young adults, ages 18 to 24, were the group most affected by the mental health strain imposed by COVID-19. In response, Hoag’s PFNI designed its Young Adults Mental Health Program – an accredited, outpatient program – to target the specific mental health needs of this age group. Hoag’s Neurobehavioral Health programs have received accreditation from Counsel on Accreditation for Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).

Hoag’s PFNI designed the eight-week Young Adults Mental Health Program to help those struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma and other mood disorders or mental health issues, as they navigate the transition into adulthood. Led by a team of experts, the program uses dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy in a group setting.

“Our program’s experienced, interdisciplinary treatment team provides a level of expertise that participants connect to,” Rao said. “Working with Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, we are able to reach young adults with evidenced-based, proven methods.”

Hoag’s neuroscientists and therapists said the pandemic created a level of anxiety and depression most have never seen in the community before.

“The importance of addressing the increasing mental health crisis for all age groups – but particularly for our vulnerable youth – emerged as a priority,” Rao said. “Adolescents and young adults are at a critical stage in their lives. Hoag has stepped up to help our young South Orange County residents establish and maintain healthy relationships with themselves, their families and friends through this difficult time and beyond.”

Image: Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute gives teens and young adults the coping skills they need to weather emotional crises. Team members include, from left to right: Dave Cook, LMFT; April Sutherland, LMFT; Prerna Rao, LMFT; Sina Safahieh, M.D.; Celia Quinlivan, LFMT, and Ammar Altowaiji, LMFT.