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Pathways RTC Abruptly De-Funded by SAMHSA

September 30, 2019

TAKE ACTION NOW!

(Updated with comments at the end of this post)

I learned some alarming news this week that should raise concern among children’s mental health advocates involved with federally funded initiatives. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the federal Department of Health and Human Services, has abruptly cut funding to a research center at Portland State University that has had great success in promoting mental health and well-being for young adults who experience serious mental health disabilities.

The question that remains unanswered is why?

Here is What We Know
The Pathways Research and Training Center (Pathways RTC) at Portland State University was created ten years ago to develop new service and policy strategies so that service providers, families, and other community members could more effectively support these young adults and increase their well being. Pathways RTC—together with other RTCs focused on mental health—was jointly funded by two federal agencies: SAMHSA and NIDILRR (National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research). After a rigorous competition, three RTCs (including the RTC at PSU) were identified as the most successful candidates for three available research center grants. However, at the last minute, and not because of any budgetary need, SAMHSA decided to cut all funding to the RTC program. The result is that the Pathways RTC at Portland State University (Oregon) will be closing. 

The Question Remains – Why Shut Down a Program That is Showing Success?
There has been no discernible reason given, at least that I have been able to find. Let me know if you have information that would help explain what appears to be a knee-jerk decision at best.

We know that young adults are the segment of the population that is most likely to experience a serious mental health disability, but they are also the least likely to engage in mental health services, even when services are available to them. Young adults often find that typical mental health services—designed for children or older adults—are not appropriate for their stage of life. Providing appropriate and engaging treatment to young adults can profoundly alter their life trajectories, improving their well being and the likelihood that they will be employed and self-sufficient, and decreasing their use of costly settings such as psychiatric hospitals, emergency rooms, and prison.

Pathways RTC has been highly productive and influential during its existence. For example, Pathways researchers have developed programs and interventions, and then tested them, providing evidence that they are effective. These include programs/interventions that significantly improve:

  • The chances that young people with mental health disabilities and experience in foster care will successfully transition from high school into college or a vocational training program;
  • The chances that young people with the highest levels of mental health needs will be engaged in—and benefit from—treatment;
  • The likelihood that young people with serious mental health disabilities and experience in foster care will stay in college and thrive there; and
  • The career readiness of young people with serious mental health disabilities.

Pathways researchers have also developed and rigorously tested training approaches that ensure that service providers have the skills to work effectively with young adults. These trainings are offered through innovative, cost-effective modalities—including web-based interactive modules and web-based “remote” skills coaching using video recordings. Hundreds of providers have participated in these trainings, and Pathways research has provided evidence of the effectiveness of each training.

Finally, Pathways has developed an extensive, efficient and effective set of strategies for keeping stakeholders informed about the latest research, and about how this research can be useful to them immediately in their work and lives. Pathways’ website receives more than 40,000 visits each year, with visitors downloading more than 32,000 pdf documents, from research summaries to tip sheets to info-comics. Pathways sends out a monthly e-newsletter to more than 5,500 subscribers, as well as a yearly research digest to 18,000+ subscribers. Quarterly webinars average over 300 attendees each.

Pathways Research and Training Center has been an important part of the national response to the current crisis surrounding how best to support and treat young adults with mental health disorders. The loss of this resource will rob families and young adults of much-needed support and information and reduce the flow of information to service providers and policymakers. 

If you are not familiar with Pathways, take some time to visit their website (https://www.pathwaysrtc.pdx.edu/). We feature their materials frequently in Friday Update. Top notch!

If You Are Unhappy with the Impact of SAMHSA’s Decision to Cut This Funding, It’s Time to Speak Out! 

I encourage you to write an email to HHS Secretary Alex Azar to encourage him to have SAMHSA reconsider their decision.

HHS Office of the Secretary
Alex Azar, Secretary
Secretary@HHS.gov
202-690-7000

Important: Be sure to copy the following people on your email to Secretary Azar:

Who Else Should You Contact?

Your senators:
United States Senate

Your representatives:
Directory of Representatives

Included below is suggested language for you to adapt from when emailing your representatives about the impact of SAMHSA’s funding cut on youth and young adult mental health. Fill in your own details where needed:

Subject Line: SAMHSA Should Continue Funding Mental Health RTCs 

I am writing to you to express my concern about SAMHSA’s recent decision to end its financial support for the Research and Training Centers on mental health that it has co-funded with NIDILRR since 1984. As a result of this change, the funding to the Pathways Research and Training Center (RTC) at Portland State University has been discontinued. I urge you to reconsider your decision and to restore the funding for all three Centers that SAMHSA has co-funded with NIDILRR so successfully.

I am a [choose one or add your own: young adult with lived experience with mental health challenges, a parent of a young adult with mental health challenges, a fellow researcher, a service provider who works with young adults with mental health challenges, etc.] and I [describe your connection to Pathways RTC]

[Select from the following points:]

    • Young adults with mental health disabilities have the highest level of need for services, and this need is increasing over time. They are also the most challenging group to engage in mental health treatment services. 
    • The Pathways RTC has conducted research and disseminated information that has improved the lives of young adults with mental health disorders. It has been instrumental in conducting and promoting research about the best ways to engage young adults in services, to empower them to shape their treatment plans, and to sharpen the skills of mental health providers who work with them.
    • The Pathways RTC has been an important part of the national response to the current crisis surrounding how best to support and treat young adults with mental health disorders. The loss of this resource will rob families and young adults of much-needed support and information and reduce the flow of information to service providers and policymakers. 

You could also include information such as the following:

    • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34
    • Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of serious mental illness, compared to adults aged 26-49 years (5.6%) and aged 50 and older (2.7%).
    • The percentage of young adults aged 18-25 years with any mental illness who received mental health services (38.4%) was lower than adults \ aged 26-49 years (43.3%) and aged 50 and older (44.2%).

I urge you to reconsider your decision and reinstate funding for the Centers so that they can continue their valuable efforts to improve employment and life outcomes for people who experience mental health conditions.

Your name

Address

Phone

email

Update 10-12-19

We have received a number of comments from people wishing to remain anonymous related to the de-funding of Pathways and are including them here. We encourage you to add to the conversation. Click on the comments link at the bottom of this page and add your thoughts. If you wish to remain anonymous, send your comments to  information@cmhnetwork.org. Anonymous comments are included here.

    • Please know that all of us were horrified by the cutting of Pathways.  I think the announcement that was sent out from the Friday Update said it all.  You guys have done wonderful important work and this is a terrible loss for the nation as a whole, and of course for you all personally.  I am so sorry, I hope that there will be new ways to keep your efforts going. Please tell me this is not true….

    • Our state system of care has benefited in so many ways from the plethora of research and materials that you have developed on wraparound, transition age youth and first episode psychosis as well as being such wonderful role models for youth engagement and youth empowerment.

    • You have really shown us what it means to involve young people in the process of change and have constantly pushed us to think differently about mental health and wellness!

    • We are very sad to hear about this news. We are definitely hoping that something will happen to keep Pathways RTC.

    • Sorry to hear about the Pathways funding.  Among many illogical decisions being made, it seems.

    • I have always followed the work that you have done with young adults. So I am very sorry to hear about your funding problem.  These days it could be any one of us.

    • I am at an absolute loss for words.  Pathways RTC was the first resource I found for direction.  Pathways RTC and your work have been invaluable to the networks in place to serve those with mental illness diagnoses.  Please, please let me know if there is any way I can support your efforts.  I appreciate everything you have done for the field, for the people, and for us.

    • I was so sorry to hear about the funding cut to Pathways.  Our state has gained a great deal from our collaboration with everyone there over the years and the impact will certainly be felt by all of us working to serve young people experiencing mental illness.  There are far too many things like this happening around us these days.

    • What a terrible decision! We love love love Pathways and rely on the materials and information in so many ways. Pathways materials are so needed and so useful, please find a way to keep the work going and let us know if there is anything we can do to help!!!!

    • Help from Pathways has been the key to building our peer support program and youth and young adult voice. I am incredibly sad that there is a lack of appreciation from funders of the great work that you all do.

    • I’m devastated, as I am sure you all are.

    • I’m so sorry to hear this. Pathways has been such a valuable asset to the work we are doing with young adults here in our state.

    • Hello, From one federal grant program to another, I cannot express how sorry I am to hear that the funding for this amazing work will not be continued.

    • Help from Pathways has been the key to building our peer support program and youth and young adult voice. I am incredibly sad that there is a lack of appreciation from funders of the great work that you all do.

    • Thanks for creating such amazing materials!!!!
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About the Author

Scott Bryant-Comstock

My passion is helping to shape policy and practice in children’s mental health. For the past 40 years, my journey as a mental health advocate has traveled from volunteering at a suicide and crisis center, professional roles as a therapist in an outpatient clinic, in-home family therapist, state mental health official, Board Chair for a county mental health program, and national reviewer of children’s mental health systems reform efforts. As the founder of the Children’s Mental Health Network (2009), I lead the Network’s efforts to grow a national online forum for the exchange of ideas on how to continually improve children’s mental health research, policy and practice.

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