A new program may make it easier for young people in New Haven and the surrounding areas to navigate the early stages of psychosis.

The Specialized Treatment in Early Psychosis (STEP) clinic at the Connecticut Mental Health Center launched the Mindmap public information campaign a week ago today, which seeks to improve outreach to young adults and bring patients into treatment more quickly. The program is intended to address the issue that, while the onset of many mental illnesses is during early adulthood, patients often only enter treatment later in adulthood, said Vinod Srihari, professor of psychiatry and director of STEP. Social media and community outreach will play a major role in the campaign, aiming to educate the public about psychosis and facilitate the connection of patients with treatment.

“Most serious mental illnesses are chronic illnesses of the young,” Srihari said. “There’s a long window of opportunity lost with many illnesses, and we very much intend this demonstration to be relevant to other serious mental illnesses that onset during this period.”

The project is spearheaded by researchers from the CMHC, a hospital administered by the Yale University Department of Psychiatry and the Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS). It will reach out to the surrounding communities of Bethany, East Haven, Hamden, New Haven, North Haven, Orange, West Haven and Woodbridge.

In addition to increasing outreach, Mindmap will allow patients to have fast access to STEP, a novel clinical program within CMHC that gives patients comprehensive treatment early in the course of their psychosis. With new, more flexible screening methods, patients will not have to wait more than one or two days to be screened, said Jessica Pollard, professor of psychiatry and clinical director of STEP.

For example, people who are hospitalized will be screened before being discharged — currently, patients who have been admitted to a hospital for psychiatric reasons must wait to be discharged to be screened for admission to a mental health treatment program. STEP’s staff will also arrange meetings with patients at their own doctor’s offices if they are reluctant to come to a mental health facility. The program currently serves 25 patients and has been enrolling one to two new patients per week since beginning Mindmap.

The motivation for the campaign grew out of the realization that, despite STEP’s successful model, the program was not getting patients into treatment as soon as researchers wanted, Pollard said.

“The duration of untreated psychosis is measured in years, which is just horrible when you think about what that’s like for the person suffering from the illness and their family,” she added.

Reducing the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) is one of the main goals of Mindmap, Srihari said.

Because the onset of most cases of psychosis occur during early adulthood, the campaign is targeting that demographic. Social media is a particularly effective channel to reach this age group, said Jessica Goldman, young adult coordinator at the Connecticut branch of the National Association of Mental Illness. Mindmap will expand upon already-existing services for young adults, said Mary Kelly Mason, public relations manager at the DMHAS.

“The campaign is going to reach out to people we have not had mental health services for before,” Mason said.

Mindmap is modeled after the Early Identification and Treatment of Psychosis (TIPS) project, a Scandinavian approach that utilizes education about early signs of psychosis to reduce DUP. Researchers from TIPS are consulting on the Mindmap project.

Mindmap is being implemented as part of a study investigating whether this new public information campaign can improve outcomes for psychosis patients and shorten DUP. The study is being funded by a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health over five years, and is being carried out in conjunction with the Prevention and Recovery in Early Psychosis program at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. Similar to CMHC, MMHC is a public-academic collaboration between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. PREP, where the Mindmap campaign will not be implemented, will serve as the control site for the study.

Launched last Thursday, the campaign will run for three years, after which the researchers will measure its effects, looking specifically at DUP as an indicator of successful outreach to patients.

Researchers hope that Mindmap will be able to improve the speed of diagnosis and treatment for other mental illnesses as well. Pollard noted that there is a lack of proactive, preventative treatments for mental illness and outreach is rarely structured to reach young people.

The DMHAS will be following the work conducted by STEP and seeing if it is replicable, Mason said. If the model proves to be successful and cost-effective, it may be considered for Hartford Hospital, which also serves psychosis patients, Srihari added.

STEP was founded in 2006.