Tara Niendam, associate professor in psychiatry and executive director of the UC Davis Early Psychosis Program, has received a $2.8 million Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Innovation contract from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. The contract supports the EPI-CAL project that studies and coordinates efforts of early psychosis (EP) programs in California.

Tara Niendam, associate professor in psychiatry and executive director of the UC Davis Early Psychosis Program
Tara Niendam, associate professor in psychiatry and executive director of the UC Davis Early Psychosis Program

First episode of psychosis

Psychosis is a brain-based disorder affecting the person’s perception of reality. Patients experiencing psychosis have difficulty distinguishing what is real from what is not. During a psychotic episode, the patients might have hallucinations, paranoia or delusions, and disordered thoughts and speech.

While psychosis can start at any age, young adults are at an increased risk. Every year, around 100,000 adolescents and young adults in the U.S. experience first episode psychosis (FEP). When a first episode of psychosis goes untreated for a long time, it may lead to health complications, slower recovery and higher costs.

Proper intervention in the early stages of a psychotic illness is critical. One effective treatment for early psychosis is team-based “coordinated specialty care” (CSC). CSC is a recovery-oriented treatment program that promotes shared decision-making with the patient and family to create a personal treatment plan.

Coordinating early psychosis programs in California

A UC Davis Health team, led by Niendam, established EPI-CAL as an early psychosis intervention network in California.

“Our team was uniquely qualified to create EPI-CAL,” Niendam said. “We are experienced users of mobile health technology in EP care and have built strong collaborations with EP programs in California.”

EPI-CAL will compile core data on more than 1,000 FEP clients from 11 community and six university EP clinics. It promotes the use of this data in everyday treatment decisions and provides a much-needed coordination and data infrastructure for the state’s EP programs.

EPI-CAL also supports broader learning and coordination at the national levels. It is part of the EPINET program, the larger national EP network supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Members of EPINET collaborate to create a core assessment battery that can be used in EP programs nationwide to collect data on treatment and outcomes. These knowledge-sharing efforts allow for large-scale evaluation and timely dissemination of best practices.

Boosting participation in early psychosis programs

The EPI-CAL project is expected to make important changes to mental health practices by boosting the quality of services both in California and on a national level. It will provide measurement-based care via an EP-focused technology platform, enabling participation for users and their families across 13 languages.

In addition to supporting participation in EP programs, the project will develop, test and validate a measure of the duration of untreated psychosis. It will compile data from participating Learning Health Care Network programs to compare costs of providing CSC to that of standard outpatient mental health services.

The Los Angeles County contract adds to a pool of funding from San Diego, Solano and Orange counties, National Institutes of Health (NIH) and One Mind, and raises the total fund for the statewide project to more than $14 million.

Learn more about Early Psychosis Learning Health Care Network.