Innovative Program to Help Youth With Mental Illness Begins

August 3rd, 2010
Sarah Crane, a counselor with Southwest Solutions, working with youth in the new Cornerstone program

After a year of rigorous planning, a promising new initiative to help young people with serious mental illness is being implemented at Southwest Counseling Solutions (SWCS).

The pilot program is called Cornerstone, and it could become a national model. It is designed to help youth integrate into their communities and lead productive lives as they transition to adulthood.

During the next two years, Cornerstone will serve 40 young people. Nancy, 17, is one of those. She receives counseling for depression at SWCS and attends Cornerstone group sessions two afternoons a week. The current modules deal with stress management and attaining employment.

“I need to cope with the stress in my life better,” Nancy says. “I feel more at ease when I’m at Cornerstone because I know I am not alone and we are all trying to solve our problems.”

As the Cornerstone program progresses, other modules will include planning for the future, making good choices, learning and applying situational skills, resolving conflicts and developing healthy relationships, and recovering from mental illness.

What makes Cornerstone unique is the enhanced attention to integrated, consistent and continuous care. Each youth in the program has a Cornerstone Facilitator who remains actively involved in helping the young person transition to adulthood and adult services, even after the young person has “aged out” of a system of care. The Facilitator, who is also the youth’s primary clinician, provides and helps coordinate a broad range of services to make the transition successful.

The Cornerstone model also incorporates peer specialists close in age to those in the program. The three peer specialists are Andrea Samono, who is featured in a recent story, Derrick McLin and Andre Vaughn.

“I know firsthand that second chances mean a lot,” says Andre, 21, who is studying criminal justice in college. “I see myself in many of the Cornerstone youth and I want to help them get on the right track, just as someone intervened and helped me.”

Cornerstone is being closely watched by national experts. SWCS was selected by the National Council for Community Behavioral Health out of 40 organizations across the county who initially applied to become the pilot site for the program. As rigorously as the program was designed to conform to best practices, detailed data about how well the program is working will also be collected.

“Measurable outcomes will help determine the sustainability of the full Cornerstone model, for our organization and for other mental health agencies that serve these young people,” says Joseph Tardella, executive director of SWCS. “Undoubtedly, the underlying idea of the model is the way forward. Consumers of all ages are better served in a system where services are seamlessly integrated with minimal interruption.”

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