“It’s not as scary anymore. It’s not as scary when you learn more. I feel a lot more confident about what I can do, what I have the power to change, and what I can’t.”
Those are the words of Natasha, a young woman who was one of the first participants in Life Management Center’s Early Psychosis Intervention and Care (EPIC) Recovery Program. Natasha is a bright young woman who loves to read, play video games and watch movies. She was home schooled for much of her life while also remaining active with the local school system, including playing the flute in the Surfside Middle School and Arnold High School band. She graduated from Arnold High School in 2006 with outstanding grades.
While she says she had some problems with anxiety all of her life, the anxiety did not become a significant problem until she suffered a miscarriage in 2012. She explained to us that the trauma of the miscarriage was a main trigger for anxiety and depression for her. As the anxiety and depression worsened, Natasha began experiencing hallucinations. She explains that she would have “feelings like bugs crawling on me and hearing muffled TV on in another room.” There were no bugs and there was no TV on nearby. Having hallucinations like this can be frightening for anyone and it added to her anxiety and depression so she sought help.
After being diagnosed with major depressive disorder with psychotic features, Natasha was referred to our newly established EPIC program. The program is an evidence-based program providing comprehensive services to patients in early stages of a severe mental illness with psychotic symptoms and to their families.
As a part of the EPIC program, Natasha found herself working with a team of professionals who were there to help her in all aspects of her life. A psychiatrist helped to get her medications regulated so that she received the optimum benefit. Others on the team helped her to learn coping skills such as relaxed breathing and imagining herself in a peaceful place to manage her anxiety. She was also encouraged and helped to set goals for her recovery and for her life and was given help and support to accomplish these goals.
Through the help of the EPIC team, she has achieved one of the goals that was most important to her and has returned to school after anxiety had previously held her back. According to Natasha, the team helped her achieve this goal by breaking it into small steps. The first step was to apply for admission to school, another step was to decide what major she wanted to focus on, yet another step was to register for classes. By approaching the goal in smaller pieces, her anxiety was minimized and she was able to reach each step of her goal. The EPIC team was right with her every step of the way, even going to the college with her to help her learn more about the process and helping her get involved with the New Beginnings group at the school which helps students connect with each other. She is now a part-time student studying digital media at Gulf Coast State College. She hopes to use her education and her love of video games to have a successful career in the video gaming industry.
“It might be harder for me than other people, but I can do it,” said Natasha. That statement says it all since she had a lack of confidence when she first started working with the EPIC team. According to Victoria, an Individual Resiliency Training Specialist with the EPIC team , Natasha was not ready for school when she first started treatment, but she has seen that change. “Once she started understanding what her symptoms were and how to cope with them, she started getting better,” said Victoria. “Now she’s not afraid to ask for help. Her confidence is much improved since she started working with us.”
As previously mentioned, the EPIC team also works with the participant’s family. Natasha currently lives with her husband, mother and sister and they have all been involved in her treatment. They are active participants who meet with the EPIC team to learn more about Natasha’s illness and treatment, which helps them be a stronger support system for her. In addition, Natasha points out that the team has helped her to understand her illness from her family’s viewpoint which has helped her to better communicate with them.
Life Management Center began offering the EPIC program in 2014, after being a part of the national RAISE research project on which EPIC is based. The program is one of only two like it in the State of Florida, and Life Management Center’s program is currently serving as a model for additional programs to be started around the state. Every participant of the EPIC program is treated as an individual and the EPIC team works with that participant to create a plan for their treatment that fits them.