Marc and Elizabeth Rabinowitz have donated $120,000 to the Program for Specialized Treatment Early in Psychosis, a collaboration between Yale and the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, enabling the clinic to expand its reach and offer care for more individuals who suffer from psychosis.

In 2006, STEP was established to provide early treatment for people with psychosis. Although STEP has succeeded in improving health outcomes by engaging with patients early in their illnesses, its services cover only 10 of 169 towns in Connecticut. The recent donation through the newly created Rabinowitz Fund will increase the clinic’s capacity to care for more people across the state and more broadly will support the transformation of the clinic into a center of excellence, promoting collaboration to improve and implement models of care for psychosis, said Vinod Srihari, a psychiatry professor at the medical school and the director of STEP.

“We’re very grateful to have a family like [the Rabinowitzes] express confidence in what we do,” Srihari said. “We want to continue to provide best-practice care and to do translational research to better construct services for these illnesses.”

Psychosis — a symptom of several diseases that disrupts one’s thoughts and perceptions, making it difficult for them to recognize reality — is one of the most serious problems in the world that young people face, Marc Rabinowitz said. Psychosis is most common in people between the ages of 18 and 25, and the negative stigma surrounding the symptom is one of the biggest obstacles that prevent people from seeking diagnosis and treatment, he added.

Rabinowitz, who has a close family member diagnosed with a serious mental illness, said that he established the Rabinowitz Fund to provide support to address this stigma and to help individuals, particularly young people, receive care for early psychosis.

“Psychosis is a young person’s illness, and young people have a stake in this. People they were friends with in high school are struggling in college or afterwards,” he said. “It isn’t just some homeless person on the street — it started out when someone got their life disrupted because they weren’t able to get the right help.”

STEP focuses on reaching young people who have become ill and may not be aware or may not wish to seek help in a psychiatric center, Srihari said. Support staff speak with young people about their goals of returning to school or work, provide medications when necessary to manage symptoms and offer opportunities for patients’ families to become educated about how to help a young person manage psychosis.

Additionally, the clinic helps people find work or return to school, as well as relearn social skills through psychotherapeutic techniques. For some with mental illnesses, psychosis takes a toll on their abilities to connect with peers, Srihari noted.

The donation will firstly aid STEP in developing a web-based outcomes-tracking system that allows clinics across the country to measure how people with psychosis are functioning and managing their symptoms and to use these results as a way to drive further improvements in clinical care.

Rabinowitz added that the donation will also bolster STEP’s MindMap campaign, an initiative that began in 2015 to educate the public about psychosis and improve early detection, using methods from social media messages to advertisements on city buses.

“The MindMap campaign tries to attract people who have symptoms of psychosis and get them to seek help sooner by promoting the fact that psychosis should be treated like any other illness,” Rabinowitz said. “Raising awareness in a manner that isn’t threatening is really important and will help normalize the illness.”

Additionally, funding will go toward training staff members to offer various forms of cognitive interventions. These are types of structured treatment that include computer tasks and in-person coaching to help people with psychosis improve their cognitive abilities, Srihari explained.

More broadly, Rabinowitz and Srihari said, they hope to scale up the STEP clinic’s care and disseminate the clinic’s model.

“Our vision is to build a center of excellence that, while providing excellent care in our region of the country, can also serve as a force multiplier to help other centers like this get set up across the U.S. and further support this model — a mix of clinical work, education, research and policy initiatives,” Srihari said.

Expansion of the clinic, starting with offering care to everyone in Connecticut, will eventually enable STEP to influence health care policy nationally, he added.

About 100,000 young Americans suffer from psychosis each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Amy Xiong |