The Conte Center Skip Navigation Links.

First Contact Assessment Service

Deanna Barch, Ph.D.   Angela M. Reiersen, MD

Early symptoms of schizophrenia and other major psychiatric disorders can mimic behaviors related to drug and alcohol abuse or adolescent turmoil (such as rapid changes in school performance or relationships with friends).

The First Contact Assessment Service was developed by the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University to improve the outcome of such disorders through early detection and intervention.

The program’s primary goal is to identify young people under age 18 who are experiencing symptoms that may indicate they are at risk for the development of major psychiatric disorders.

Assessments generally include evaluation by a psychiatrist plus diagnostic interviews and cognitive testing by our psychology team. These assessments are covered by many health insurance plans. The First Contact Assessment Service does not take over patient care, but can provide full psychiatric and psychological evaluation reports to the patient’s referring physician or psychotherapist.

High Risk Symptoms

These experiences may indicate adolescents or young adults could be at high risk for developing a major psychiatric disorder:

  • Social withdrawal.
  • Hearing voices.
  • Having visions.
  • Disorganized speech.
  • Odd beliefs.
  • Reduced concentration or attention.
  • Chronic anxiety or irritability.
  • Depressed mood.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • General deterioration in functioning.

Best Candidates

The following types of patients are the best candidates for First Contact Assessment services:

  • Young people under 18 years of age who have some of the above high risk symptoms,
  • Patients who are currently being treated for depression or anxiety, without success,
  • Patients with a family history of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders, who are worried about developing such illnesses,
  • Patients with a genetic disorder that is known to increase risk for a psychotic illness (such as 22q11 deletion syndrome).

Complex Developmental Disorder Evaluations

Some children present with a complex mixture of motor development problems, social impairment, and/or nonspecific psychiatric symptoms. Some of these children may be at risk for developing a major mental illness in later life, particularly if there is a family history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. In some cases, these children may benefit from a First Contact evaluation that includes more detailed assessment of developmental history, subtle neurological signs, motor coordination, and/or autistic symptoms. Our referring provider screening form includes questions to help us determine whether extensive neurodevelopmental testing will be needed.

Requesting a First Contact Assessment

We limit the number of evaluations that are scheduled in order make sure people with greatest need for these services can be evaluated quickly. To help us decide whether an evaluation is appropriate, the patient’s treating mental health provider (usually a psychiatrist) must fill out the First Contact Screening Form (Physician Referral Form for requesting evaluation by Dr. Angela Reiersen, MD), which is available at the Washington University Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Center website. We may also request medical records, and our screening staff may ask a parent to answer some questions over the phone. After this information is reviewed, Dr. Reiersen will decide whether an evaluation can be scheduled. You can find more information, including our First Contact Welcome Letter, at the Washington University Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Center website . After approval by Dr. Reiersen, parents can call 314-286-1700 to schedule their child’s appointments with the First Contact Assessment Service.

Washington University School of Medicine