UH Moment: "Mental Health"

Young adults with untreated mental disorders often find themselves seeking urgent care through expensive, psychiatric emergency room services. Finding out about the path that got them there may prove valuable in finding them continuous support.

Sarah Narendorf is an assistant professor in the UH Graduate College of Social Work.  She says, though incidence of mental disorders peak during young adulthood, the use of mental health services decline. Her research is asking why.

"Young adult mental health is getting increasing attention as we see young people who are untreated for mental disorders—some in high profile incidents with gun violence," Narendorf said.  "It raises the issue of untreated mental illness in young adults."

Sarah NarendorfFunded by the Hogg Foundation, Narendorf is working with patients at the Neuropsychiatric Center of Harris County.  Her year-long study is asking  about their experiences and their preferred manner of receiving treatment.  

"These people tend to drop out of services if they've had them as adolescents, and it takes a while until they come back to the attention of the formal mental health system," she said.  "Emergency room care is much more costly than an outpatient setting.  So we would like to find out, ideally, if there are other points of intervention."  

Narendorf says this is a challenge across the country.  Eliminating the gaps in ongoing support may mean creating special transition services that provide care from the ages of 16 to 25, or transition facilitators who focus on connecting the young adult to care that fits his or her goals.

She says young adults have different needs, meaning the interaction between them and their health care providers needs to be different.  She's hopeful that her research will provide ideas on how to improve mental health care for young people.

"I'm already starting to see the seeds of what interventions will start to look like for this population, so if I can contribute to the conversation about how we develop interventions for this group, I think that would be a really great outcome of my work."

Sara Narendorf is part of what's happening at the University of Houston.