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William’s Story

First Episode Center Helps Young Patients Plan a Path for the Future

“Valleywise Health embraced me from day one and never gave up on me, which helped me learn to never give up on myself,” said William. “Without the dedicated staff, I wouldn’t have been able to find the support I needed or continue my education as a first-generation college student. Without Valleywise, I never would have dreamed of becoming an advocate for others with mental health conditions. But here I am six years later.”

William was a premier ballet dancer, a star soccer player, an honor student with a 4.4 GPA, and a contributor to his family and community. That is why his first mental health episode came as a total shock after a visit to his local grocery store went terribly wrong.

“I was rushed to the intensive care unit in July of 2018 after a trip to the store resulted in hallucinations, hearing voices, and seeing things other people weren’t,” said William. “I remember bits and pieces of the emergency room visit, and as traumatic as it was, I just asked the universe for strength.”

William was admitted to the psychiatric unit at Valleywise Health for 30 days. There, the medical professionals worked diligently to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. After he was discharged, Valleywise Health provided wrap-around services, including support programs at the First Episode Center (FEC), to ensure William could live a full and fruitful life with a better understanding of his brain health issues.

“After his hospitalization, William came to us as an inquisitive and motivated young man,” said Dr. Alicia Cowdrey, Outpatient Medical Director of Behavioral Health Services at Valleywise Health. “He embraced the program and wanted to make sense of his experience. He was actively involved in his recovery and wanted to learn as much as he could so that he could prevent an incident like this from happening to him again.”

According to Dr. Cowdrey, serious mental illness can happen to anyone at any time. Often, genetic components are at play, combined with environmental stressors that can be either good or bad. Things like a breakup, job loss, or leaving for college can trigger the first psychotic break.

The First Episode Center at Valleywise Health serves young people roughly 18-25 years old who have the beginning of psychosis or mental health conditions like bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. Patients receive support in all facets of their lives, including medical intervention, therapy, peer support, school and employment help, and goal setting for a brighter future.

William’s life goals included giving back to the community and using his personal experience with brain health to help others in similar circumstances. After more than 75 hours of training in a state-certified program, William is now a peer support specialist at the First Episode Center.

“While life has been very interesting for me, I am grateful for every chance I get to share my life’s miracles and tribulations,” he said. “If I had not found the FEC, or if it didn’t exist, I don’t know where I would be today. The reality is that, without this help, I don’t think I would have ever gotten better, gone back to school, or had a passion for what I want to do with my life. For that, I will be forever grateful to Dr. Cowdrey and her amazing team.”

To support the work of Valleywise Health Foundation.

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