Center guides youth with serious mental health issues into adulthood

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

January 19, 2011

In addition to conducting research, the new Transitions Research and Training Center employs transition-age youth and young adults with serious mental health conditions as project assistants. Pictured here are RTC Project Assistants (left to right) Jennifer Whitney, Danielle Valcourt, Amanda Costa and Nadia Ackerman.

The transition from school to the workplace is difficult for many young people, but it can be even harder for those with serious mental health conditions. The Center for Mental Health Services Research in the Department of Psychiatry at UMass Medical School has created the Transitions Research and Training Center (RTC) to help ease that transition by identifying age-appropriate programs to help this at-risk population successfully complete schooling, receive training and launch their adult working careers.  
Funded by a five-year grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Transitions RTC is led by principal investigator Maryann Davis, PhD, research associate professor of psychiatry. 

“We hope to better understand what kinds of support programs are effective for youth and young adults who have serious mental health conditions during the important developmental stage between the ages of 14 and 30,” said Dr. Davis. “We will share the knowledge we gain from our research with service providers and policy makers so it can inform and ultimately impact policy and practice.”  

Sharing their voices for hope

The goal of the Voices4Hopewebsite, created by project assistants at the Transitions Research & Training Center (RTC), who are teens and young adults with serious mental health conditions themselves, is to connect peers facing similar challenges from across the state and the nation to talk, network and access information on gaining satisfying and independent lives. “Hot Topic” discussions are posted on employment, education and mental health issues, which may spark new ideas in the minds of young adults.

Voices4Hope also introduces visitors to the project assistants who courageously share their personal stories and the challenges they face and continue to meet each day. For example, one of the RTC project assistants has had to quit three different jobs in a two-year span due to reoccurring issues with her mental illness, including nine hospitalizations, while simultaneously attempting to leave a verbally abusive marriage. During this time, she felt that the support provided during hospitalization were adult centered, and not focused on her unique needs as a young adult. Voices4Hope offers tips on how to achieve goals; resources to help overcome specific challenges; updates on research being conducted by the Transitions RTC; and the opportunity for readers to share personal stories.

The Transitions RTC also employs transition-age youth and young adults with serious mental health conditions as project assistants. “This program recognizes that we are not our illnesses. We are not our symptoms or medication either,” said one RTC project assistant. “Each of us is an individual, with our own strengths in addition to our struggles.” In addition to their involvement in a range of RTC activities including ongoing research projects and trainings, project assistants have created a website calledVoices4Hope to share information and resources. (See sidebar for more information.)

Housed at UMass Medical School, Transitions RTC comprises collaborators from other institutions and organizations involved with mental health services research and advocacy, including Dartmouth College and the New Jersey School of Dentistry and Medicine, as well as the nonprofit research institute SRI International and Thresholds, Illinois' largest and oldest provider of mental health services. Additional funding for Transitions RTC is provided by Commonwealth Medicine, the health care consulting division of UMass Medical School. 

Collaborator and Transitions RTC Associate Director for Participatory Action Research Jonathan Delman, JD, MPH, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit advocacy organization Consumer Quality Initiatives, Inc., drew from his extensive personal and professional experience as a person living with bipolar disorder when he recently hosted a webinar, “Young Adult Participation in Mental Health Services Research: Making it Real.” The webinar can be viewed here:

For additional information, please contact Marsha Langer Ellison, PhD, associate director of knowledge translation for the Transitions RTC, at or visit the website at Transitions RTC is also on Facebook (Voices4Hope - TransitionsRTC) and Twitter (@TransitionsRTC).

Related Links