Federal Grant Ensures Transition Age Youth Living with Mental Illness Receive Tailored Services

A young adult in an office setting.

As part of the Administration’s Now is the Time (NITT) plan to make mental health services more accessible for all Americans, the Center for Mental Health Services within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) received $20 million in funding to create the “Healthy Transitions” initiative to identify and serve youth ages 16-25 at risk of developing or living with serious mental health challenges.

The Healthy Transitions initiative has funded five-year programs (through September 2019) for 16 state grantees and one tribal nation grantee, as well as a technical assistance center and a program evaluation.

There is a lack of mental health services and supports tailored to the unique developmental needs of young adults with mental health challenges, noted Diane Sondheimer, deputy chief of the Child, Adolescent, and Family Branch of the Center for Mental Health Services. Healthy Transitions is addressing these service and systemic gaps with the goal of changing life trajectories for older adolescents and young adults so that they are able to become independent and assume adult roles and responsibilities.

Research has shown that many adult-serving agencies are unaware of their young adult clients’ needs and preferences, Sondheimer shared. Therefore, transition-age youth often fall through the cracks when they age out of the children’s systems and enter adult-centered programs, Sondheimer added. These findings demonstrate that state adult mental health systems are attempting to improve their transition support services, but they have a long way to go before young adult clients and their families can count on the availability of comprehensive, age-appropriate, appealing services throughout the transition stage.

“There are currently few evidence-based practices (EBPs) for transition-age youth with mental health challenges, although a few adult EBPs have been modified for young adults (e.g. supported employment). The Healthy Transitions cross-site evaluation aims to develop effective services and interventions for youth and young adults with a serious mental health condition and their families,” Sondheimer said.

Grant Implementation at the Local Level

Kentucky, which named its statewide Healthy Transitions programs, “Transition Age Youth Living Realized Dreams” (TAYLRD), distributed funds to two service providers. One of those grantees, Seven Counties Services, provides mental health services in the Louisville region. The five-year TAYLRD grant has enabled the agency to open two youth drop-in centers, a rural one in Taylorsville and an urban one in Louisville.

Anita Roper, the program coordinator for both TAYLRD drop-in centers, has seen first-hand how difficult it can be for young people to transition from children’s services to adult services, even within the same agency. Prior to TAYLRD, youth enrolled in Seven Counties Services’ Louisville programs often fell off the radar when they turned 18 and had to initiate services with the adult programs.

“It's just kind of the transition [in and] of itself and whether they're [going to] take the initiative to actually transition therapists, get a new doctor, get a new case manager, all those kinds of things,” Roper said.

The TAYLRD Louisville drop-in center, whose client population comprises mostly homeless youth, makes the transition easier with youth-friendly case management, peer support, therapy, and referrals for housing, job training, and medication management. Youth visitors also receive free hot meals, have access to free on-site laundry machines and computers, and can squeeze in some recreation at the center’s pool table or watch a movie on Netflix.

"Our goal is to provide kind of a one-stop-shop for young people to come and work toward independence in a healthy way,” Roper explained. “Our mission is to engage young people, to connect them with services that they need, and then to [help them get to a point] where they then can contribute back by becoming employed personnel who pay taxes and maybe volunteer back at places where they've received some help. And so that's…our three-tiered vision."

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