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Program in the Spotlight


Program in the Spotlight
Services for Teens at Risk (STAR-Center)

Services for Teens at Risk (STAR-Center) is a specialty clinical, training, and research program of the Department of Psychiatry and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. Founded in 1986 by David Brent, MD, and Mary Margaret Kerr, EdD, STAR-Center provides a comprehensive suicide prevention center and an Intensive Outpatient Program for teens and children. With support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the outpatient clinic has provided assessment and treatment for over 7,800 youth at risk for suicide. Since 2007 and in partnership with Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC, STAR-Center has offered expanded programs to treat pre-teens for depression and children and adolescents suffering from anxiety. In recognition of an important clinical need in our community, STAR-Center now provides care for children and adolescents with post-concussion syndrome, which often includes sleep difficulties, demoralization, depression, and suicidal ideation and work closely with colleagues in Sports Medicine and Pediatric Neurology on the management of these youth. In addition to treatment, the Center provides opportunities for clinical training and innovative research, both of which contribute to the overall mission of addressing the pressing issues of youth suicide.

STAR-Center offers a range of clinical programs to support children, adolescents, and their families. Children and adolescents can come to the STAR-Center for assessment and evaluation of current and past psychiatric problems. For those who decide to continue treatment, the Center has options for cognitive behavior therapy and pharmacology as part of their outpatient treatment program. For those requiring more intensive care than weekly therapy, the STAR-Center Intensive Outpatient Program treats adolescents; this program uses dialectic behavior therapy and cognitive behavior therapy. The center offers a monthly educational group for parents of children with depression and holds support groups for adults as well as youth who have lost a family member or loved one to suicide. Dr. Brent and his colleagues have recently launched a new program for youth and their families who will be graduating high school to help them learn to take responsibility for their own treatment in order to minimize the risk for relapse during the sometimes stressful transition to college or other post-high school activities.

A leading program in the field of youth suicide intervention, STAR-Center also provides an array of training and educational services to students, schools, community organizations, and mental health agencies. Kim Poling, LCSW, who serves as the Clinical Program Manager for STAR, has overseen training of numerous trainees in the assessment and management of youth at risk for suicide. Graduate and post-graduate students are eligible to participate in electives, offered for the Master, PhD, resident, and research fellow levels. The University of Pittsburgh also sponsors a graduate-level course on cognitive behavioral therapy taught by one current and one former STAR-center staff members. In addition to their work with trainees, STAR-Center provides resources for both families and professionals, such as handbooks and manuals on the topics of suicide treatment, living with depression, anxiety, and more. The Center also provides training programs and workshops such as community awareness education and postvention activities for schools following a suicide event.

Kim Poling, LCSW and David Brent, MD

At the foundation of the culture of the STAR-Center is the commitment to the importance of continued research to better understand the treatment and prevention of depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior.

“STAR-Center has supported six major NIMH-funded clinical trials on the treatment and prevention of adolescent depression, child and adolescent anxiety, and adolescent suicidal behavior, and several other studies to understand the etiology of suicidal behavior,” said Dr. Brent, “One exciting new venture will be to develop a brief, inpatient intervention for suicidal youth to decrease recurrence of suicidal behavior and improve the transition to outpatient care.” Therefore, in addition to providing evidence-based treatment for youth with depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior, STAR-Center also adds to the evidence base and helps to improve our understanding of the cause and treatment of at-risk children and adolescents.

Visit the STAR Center website to learn more about this innovative program and the clinical and educational services available.