The first signs of mental illness involving psychosis — the experience of having hallucinations, delusions or intrusive, disturbing thoughts — often appear during the teen years. There is emerging evidence, however, that early intervention can help such adolescents avoid the extremely serious problems that can derail their educations and disrupt family relationships.
With this goal in mind, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has opened a clinic to provide treatment free of charge to adolescents and young adults who may be in the early stages of psychosis. Mental health professionals at the new clinic will treat people ages 13 to 25 at high risk for developing psychosis, as well as those who have been diagnosed with a psychotic illness within the prior three years.
Psychosis is a symptom of psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and some forms of bipolar disorder. Such illnesses affect an estimated 3% of the U.S. population, according to Daniel Mamah, MD, director of the new clinic, called the Washington Early Recognition Center (WERC).
The new clinic began seeing its first such patients earlier this year. Mamah, an associate professor of psychiatry, has directed a research effort with the same name for the last few years. Those treated at the clinic will be offered the opportunity to participate in research studies, but the new clinic is primarily aimed at providing early treatment to adolescents and young adults experiencing psychosis.
“There is a real need to help young patients and their families because psychotic disorders tend to get worse over time, especially if untreated,” Mamah said. “The aim of this clinic is to get patients into treatment as early as possible, providing them with interventions such as individual psychotherapy, family therapy and medication. Like most other illnesses, the earlier you intervene with psychosis, the better the long-term outcomes tend to be.”