An assessment and expansion of the transition age youth work program at Plumas County Behavioral Health

Long-term mental health systems utilization is caused by inadequate education, untreated mental illness and social isolation, among other factors. These factors are amplified in rural areas, where many people do not have access to quality health care, education, and social supports. This is especially true for rural Transition Age Youth (TAY) with mental illness, where Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) programming is often lacking. This study sought to assess the effectiveness of a community-based TAY work program operated through Plumas County Behavioral Health (PCBH) at improving participants perceived and actual skills, knowledge and attitudes as related to their social, vocational and coping capacities. The goal was to assist participants with improving their quality of life and reducing costly long-term systems utilization. The mixed-methods design of the study allowed for a rich exploration of participants’ perceptions and growth. While results of the study are statistically non-significant, qualitative data confirm that program participation fostered an increased sense of connection to, and support from, the greater community. Survey responses indicated a lasting and positive impact on participant’s physical and mental health and ability to manage stress. Results are in line with research indicating that community-based programs, rather than individualized services, are more effective at supporting TAY with developing a sense of efficacy. The implications of this study are broad and suggest that to best support TAY, community-based PEI programs that combine therapeutic, social, and vocational skills training and practice are essential to combating long-term mental health systems usage.