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Johns Hopkins Bayview News - Light in the Darkness

Fall 2015

Light in the Darkness

By: Martin Fisher
Date: November 2, 2015

Program offers hope for adolescents with mental health disorders

Female young adult opening window drapes to let sunlight in
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Barbara Oliver* was at her lowest point. The 19-year-old had withdrawn from college and checked into the hospital with severe depression and anxiety that caused her to begin injuring herself. It was a sudden, dark turn for Oliver, who remembered being a “vivacious teenager who was involved in clubs and was really active in the community” just a year before, but now felt completely hopeless and alone.

Adolescence and young adulthood can be difficult. Many mental health issues present themselves during this period, as a young person’s brain matures and their life changes significantly. Psychiatrist Leslie Miller, M.D., knew she could help young people at this particularly vulnerable time of transition. Her long-held interest led her to found the Mood Disorders in Adolescents and Young Adults Program (MAP) at Johns Hopkins Bayview, which employs a rare multidisciplinary approach to mental health. After Oliver’s first hospitalization, she started seeing Dr. Miller and Arielle Goldman, a licensed clinical social worker and senior MAP therapist.

A Team Approach

“We really value the team approach—the therapist and psychiatrist working together with the patients and families,” says Dr. Miller. The program uses every tool available, including medication, family support and multiple types of therapy, to fully address complicated mental health issues.

Medication can treat parts of these severe or complicated disorders, but the skills learned in therapy also are necessary to fully address some problems. Although having a psychiatrist and a therapist working in concert is uncommon in private practice, Dr. Miller believes “it’s best for the patient. We collaborate all the time, so the patient doesn’t have to repeat everything, and we reinforce our messages so we can have a unified approach.”

“At the beginning, I was really stubborn,” remembers Oliver, now 24. However, she quickly grew to trust Dr. Miller. “She wants your feedback and wants to know what you’re comfortable with,” says Oliver. “It’s a dialogue. She’s one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met.” She also was won over by Goldman, whom she says “will go the extra mile. Even if you don’t have an appointment, she’ll be there if you’re in crisis. You can tell she honestly cares.” She appreciated the open communication in the program, as well as the years of unwavering support from the staff, her family, friends and boyfriend.

A Continuing Journey

Recovery “is definitely a marathon—maybe even a few marathons,” explains Dr. Miller. “It’s not a straight path.” Everyone experiences setbacks or pitfalls, and she sometimes has to remind discouraged patients or their families how much progress they’ve made over the past few months.

As Oliver worked to rebuild her life, she realized how she had “begun to see things in a more positive light, and to ascertain what was important to me and what I wanted to be in my life.” Despite several setbacks, including another hospital stay, she persevered and finished her degree, graduating with honors in the spring of 2015. “We were all so proud of her,” remembers Dr. Miller, who, along with Goldman, called Oliver’s family to congratulate them.

Oliver is back to volunteering, while planning to go to grad school to become a teacher, which she couldn’t have dreamed of years ago. “I have an incredible therapist and an incomparable psychiatrist,” she says. “I would never be where I am today without them. They stuck with me when things were really bleak, and I think that made all the difference."

To learn more about the MAP program, contact Ryan Moore at 410-550-3228.

*Name has been changed.