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First psychotic episode? Seek early treatment

May 12, 2017
Dr. Alicia Cowdrey, Special for The Republic

MIHS image 0 First psychotic episode? Seek early treatmentQuestion: What is first episode psychosis and is it treatable?

Answer: First episode psychosis refers to the first time someone experiences psychotic symptoms or a psychotic episode. This typically occurs in young people ages 15 to 30, and the experience is different for each person. They may experience a decline at school or work, withdraw from family and friends, and begin experiencing symptoms such as seeing or hearing things that others don’t (hallucinations), unusual thoughts or behaviors, or becoming fearful or suspicious.

This can be frightening for the individual and their family. It happens across socio-economic classes and commonly occurs when a young person experiences the typical stressors of growing up: going away to college, moving out on their own, or beginning a new job.

About 100,000 young adults experience psychosis for the first time every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.

It’s very important that individuals and families seek treatment early. Research shows that the longer the psychosis remains untreated, the more brain damage can occur, leading to greater loss of overall function and decrease in achieving one’s goals in life.

In addition, there is a higher risk of suicide for young people who experience first episode of psychosis.

Fortunately, new programs are in place that can help young people manage their brain health and experience recovery and hope.

The First Episode Center at Maricopa Integrated Health System opened in January, and offers support to those between the ages of 15-30 who are experiencing a first-time episode of psychosis.

Programs like the First Episode Center offer individual and family-driven “wrap around” services, including recovery coaching, counseling, family education and support, supported education and employment, peer support, and medication management,

if the person and their doctor decide it is needed. Services are offered in an outpatient clinic that is bright and welcoming, far from the stigmatized environment of traditional mental health clinics.

The benefits of early intervention are significant for patients and loved ones. Those who seek treatment early experience reduced disruptions to work or school, decreased need for hospitalizations, less interactions with the legal system, and better general physical and mental health.  There is a more rapid recovery and better long term prognosis.

With the help of these early intervention programs, most individuals are working or back in school, they are engaged in meaningful relationships and activities in their community and they maintain their family connections. They are doing the positive things in their lives that they want instead of their lives being managed by their symptoms.  This is why it is so important to educate young people and parents there is hope after a first episode of psychosis.

Alicia Cowdrey, MD, is the medical director for the Maricopa Integrated Health System First Episode Center. To learn more about the First Episode Center, please visit or call 623-344-3700.

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