Phantom voices instructed a 13-year-old girl to store knives in her bed, taunted her with vulgarities and convinced her that she could see god, even be a god.
For months, the voices destroyed peace in the family’s home.
“I felt helpless because my daughter’s inner demons wouldn’t go away,” said the teenager’s mother, Takisha, recalling the psychotic episodes that began in early 2020. “Seeing my baby girl being tormented by her inner demons was more horrific than I could ever have imagined.”
Most parents and caregivers feel frightened and helpless when their teenagers and young adults start exhibiting early signs of psychosis. It’s why Daniel T. Mamah, MD, started the Washington Early Recognition Center, a free, outpatient clinic that opened in January 2020 and serves patients ages 13 to 25. It is the only comprehensive clinic in Missouri — and one of a handful in the Midwest — specializing in youth psychosis, including conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Psychosis is a state of mind that occurs when the brain cannot properly process information, causing a splintered reality in which sufferers cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not. They may hear phantom voices and noises, or see people, creatures and other things that do not exist. They may exhibit paranoia, behave in erratic or strange ways or espouse bizarre beliefs.
As the center’s director, Mamah leads a team of licensed counselors, social workers and psychiatric physicians who collaborate using neuroimaging, elaborate clinical assessments and cognitive testing to diagnose psychotic disorders and monitor symptoms. They develop personalized treatment plans that include a range of services, from individual and group therapy to medication management and programs that support family caregivers. Patients are referred to the clinic by community organizations, schools, pediatricians, psychiatrists or physicians at hospitals.
Funding from philanthropists, foundations and the university allows the center to remove the financial burdens that often impede a person’s ability to receive medical care. “Poverty is a major roadblock to accessing mental health treatment,” Mamah said. “The center’s goal is to provide well-rounded care to young people in an early stage of a psychotic disorder or someone on the psychosis spectrum because we know effective treatment means more than seeing a psychiatrist or getting a counselor.”