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Innovative mental health program at Upstate receives national award

Upstate Medical University’s Psychiatry High Risk Program has received the American Psychiatric Association’s Silver Achievement Award.

The Psychiatric Services Achievement Awards recognize creative models of service delivery and innovative programs for people with mental illness or disabilities. The Silver Award, the second highest award, comes with a $2,000 prize, but what’s most important is that the recognition comes at a time when mental health struggles of youth and adolescents are at an all-time high.

Robert Gregory, MD, director of the Psychiatry High Risk Program and director of the Center for Suicide Prevention said that recent studies reveal startling statistics. In the most recent issue of the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), a study indicated that among youth, emergency department visits for suicidality increased five-fold in the last decade. Over the same period of time, the rate of suicide among adolescents climbed 62 percent. The 2021 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated 22 percent of teens seriously considered suicide and 10 percent attempted suicide.

“There is a national crisis of suicide, particularly among youth,” Gregory said. “That is why this award was given to a suicide prevention program instead of other types of psychiatric programs. This award also acknowledges that Upstate is on the cutting-edge of national efforts to prevent suicide, and that other institutions across the country should consider trying to replicate Upstate’s innovative Psychiatry High Risk Program model of suicide prevention in their own communities.

Gregory started Upstate’s Psychiatry High Risk Program (PHRP) in 2017 for suicidal youth and young adults, an innovative program focused on transformational healing and recovery, using an evidence-based treatment called dynamic deconstructive psychotherapy, which was also developed at Upstate. The program has served more than 600 individuals and has demonstrated more than a 90 percent reduction in hospitalizations and other outcomes and is the only program of its kind in the country. The PHRP was recently awarded the designation as “a best practice in suicide prevention” by the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

The mental health of children and adolescents has become so concerning that it has been declared a national emergency by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association. The U.S. Surgeon General is imploring communities to enhance and grow community-level health programs for children.

Upstate—already at the forefront of cutting-edge services for adolescent mental health—is answering that urgent call to action.

The Upstate Foundation, in conjunction with Upstate Medical University, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, Upstate Department of Psychiatry and Elmcrest Children’s Center, has embarked on a collaborative response to this national and local emergency. The campaign for child and adolescent mental health will support several programs that address the overarching issue­—pediatric mental health providers cannot keep up with the needs of children and families because the current demand is simply too great.

Upstate also recently received $1.1 million in federal funds to establish a Suicide Prevention Center, a virtual coordinating center that will organize programs that already exist within Upstate so that there is a single point of entry for suicidal individuals and a clear pathway to treatment. The appropriated money should be available for this in the fall.

“I would love to see the Psychiatry High Risk Program expand locally and nationally,” Gregory said. “We don’t just need to throw up our hands when we hear about awful statistics of the tragedy of suicide.  It’s possible to move the needle on suicide, and we are able to offer part of the solution here at Upstate.”

Caption: Robert Gregory, MD founded the Psychiatry High Risk Program, and developed its transformational treatment, dynamic deconstructive psychotherapy.