First Hope for Country Costa County Schools



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  1. The onset of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression, often occurs between the ages of 12 and 25. Vulnerability to these serious illnesses may be inherited or acquired early in development, but they emerge in their full-blown form in teenage or young adult years often at times of high stress.

    School staff members who see these young people every day are able to notice changes that others might not. Psychosis affects the frontal lobes of the brain, where higher order cognitive functions reside, like judgment, planning, organization, focus and initiative. These functions are still maturing in adolescence, and teachers are able to watch some of this development occur. They are also able to see when this function is not developing, and a student has trouble processing new information, is disorganized and apathetic, and lacks mental liveliness. The imbalance that this causes in the brain can also create sensory overload for students. These are some of the warning signs that a young person is at risk for major mental illness.

    How do we know if it's normal adolescence, a less severe mental health problem or a severe mental illness?

    The early warning signs for psychosis can be hard to identify because they can be mistaken for other mental health issues or adolescent development crises. It’s not always easy in the early stages, but there are early warning signs. These can appear to be laziness, forgetfulness, clinical depression or Attention Deficit Disorder. There are certain “red flags” for psychosis, though, which include:

    • Social withdrawal. The person just isn’t interested in being with others, even people who were previously liked.
    • A decline in school or athletic performance.
    • Behavior that is unusual for the person. Maybe they have started to hoard things, or have developed an unusual habit or interest.
    • Heightened sensory sensitivity. Has the person started to be more sensitive to lights, sounds, or the feel of their clothing?
    • Difficulty concentrating. The person may have trouble following a conversation or class discussion, or even have trouble reading a sentence.
    • Worry, fear, and suspicion. Is the person more worried than before, especially about other people causing them harm?
    • Exaggerated beliefs. The person may believe they possess powers that they don’t really have.
    • Hallucinations. The person may see or hear things that aren’t there.

It’s possible for a person to have one or two of these symptoms for a short period of time, as a response to a life change or personal loss – a common part of life. But if you are seeing the symptoms together, and worsening, it could be the onset of severe mental illness. Contact us to discuss if that’s what you observe.

How can First Hope be helpful in schools?

First Hope helps schools by providing training and education to both staff and students. Our training for staff includes information on understanding psychosis and recognizing the early warning signs. We also provide training on when to make a referral to First Hope.

We also work with student groups to teach them about psychosis and help them recognize the early warning signs. These interactive presentations for groups such as school assemblies and health education classes are designed to reduce stigma and misinformation about mental illness, and give students information about the importance of early treatment.

To arrange a presentation, call 1-925-681-4450 , and we will speak with you about the needs of your particular group.

Impact of Psychosis

Psychosis is a debilitating condition characterized by delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking and/or bizarre behavior. Symptoms may emerge gradually or abruptly. Psychosis can affect all aspects of life – education, employment, relationships, social functioning, and physical and mental well-being. Psychosis may be caused by a psychiatric disorder, such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder. It can also be caused by a other conditions, such as a brain injury or infection, or substance use.

Getting help Early

Getting early help when you or someone you know might be experiencing psychosis is really important. Psychosis can be distressing, so limiting the time people experience it is important. Getting help early not only reduces the distress people experience, it also reduces the chances of having another psychotic episode. It reduces the disruption in people’s lives so they are more likely to be able to carry on working or going to school and find it easier to carry on with their social life.
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