Psychosis is a symptom of psychiatric illnesses including schizophrenia and some forms of bipolar disorder. These illnesses affect an estimated 3% of the U.S. population.
Dr. Daniel Mamah, director of the Washington Early Recognition Center and associate professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine, is a licensed psychiatrist who actively works in the community and conducts research in Africa.
Mamah completed his psychiatry residency and Masters of Psychiatric Epidemiology (MPE) at Washington University and received his medical degree from Semmelweis University of Medicine in Budapest, Hungary.
“My dad is from Nigeria and my mom is from Hungary; I grew up in both of those countries,” Mamah said.
Mamah’s interest in the medical field sparked from him seeing the need for healthcare in Africa.
“Growing up in Nigeria opened my eyes,” Mamah said.
“In Africa, death at a young age was common because of relatively minor things like malaria due to the lack of healthcare.”
This lack of access to healthcare made Mamah want to pursue work in medicine.
“I wanted to help, which is what made me interested in the medical field,” Mamah said.
Medicine brought Mamah, who has lived in St. Louis for 20 years, to the U.S.
“When you’re in other countries, you look to the United States as being the land of opportunity where you can take your career wherever you want to,” Mamah said. “There are lots of great opportunities for healthcare and research in the U.S.”
Mamah’s specialty area of medicine is psychiatry, which is the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.
“I have always been interested in the brain,” Mamah said. “I initially wanted to be a brain surgeon, but over time, I realized I was less interested in surgery and more interested in trying to solve the problems that occur in more complex brain functions.”
As the founder and director of the Washington Early Recognition Center [WERC] at the Washington University School of Medicine, Mamah’s goal is to accurately identify young people early in the course of their illness or disorder and provide evidence-based interventions to reduce symptoms and improve social, educational, and vocational functioning. Services at the clinic are free of charge.
“Launched in January 2020, WERC is the only early psychosis center in the state of Missouri,” Mamah said. “When you have been in this field for as long as I have, you realize where the needs are; I realized that this was one thing that was missing.”
WERC is a specialized treatment clinic in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University Medical School.
It is the only clinical service in the St. Louis region specializing in the comprehensive mental health care of adolescents and young adults, ages 13-25, who have been recently diagnosed with a psychotic disorder or are experiencing early signs of psychosis.
Three major foundations have funded WERC, including the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund.
Emily Koenig, executive director of the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund spoke highly of Mamah and his receiving the Dr. John M. Anderson Excellence in Mental Health Award, which is presented by the Children’s Service Fund in partnership with The St. Louis American Foundation..
“Dr. Mamah has been addressing the needs of the community,” Koenig said. “He most notably has served as a psychiatrist for many of our non-profit providers who serve underserved communities through child and adolescent psychiatric services.”
An example of a non-profit organization Mamah works with is the Covenant House Missouri Youth Shelter.
“I initially started psychiatry work, which was needed in the community, at a youth center located in the Central West End called the Spot, then started my work at the Covenant Youth Shelter,” Mamah said.
Schizophrenia rates are two is two to three times higher in the African American community from a national standpoint. Mamah has worked at the Covenant House Missouri Youth Shelter for 13 years in order to provide psychiatric services to individuals who may not have the means to seek help for mental health disorders on their own.
Additionally, Mamah’s work has involved developing assessment tools for early identification psychosis, including the WERCAP Screen.
“I helped create three different screening tools for mental health disorders, including the WERCAP Screen. It measures the severity of psychotic symptoms, even subtle ones,” he said.
The purpose of this screening tool is to help estimate who is at-risk for developing disorders like schizophrenia.
“If your goal is to identify the at risk population, you need a tool to capture that information,” Mamah said. “We’ve used it here in the U.S., but we are now using it in our studies in Africa because it was designed with cross-cultural applications.”
Mamah has worked on his research in Africa for 12 years. His goal was to fill a need in early psychosis research on the continent. So far, he is the only researcher studying this clinical high-risk population on the continent.
“The problem with the lack of research in Africa is that we are missing an understanding of how psychotic disorders may present in another population. There is research in Europe and Australia. If you cut out an entire continent, you are missing out on culture-specific issues that may not be the same among other populations.”
Mamah’s other notable achievements include his involvement on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5) Task Force from 2006 to 2013 in addition to being the president and founder of the Eastern Missouri Psychiatric Society.
“My thought has always been ‘How can I advance this field?’ because I think we can always move forward and do more in mental health,” Mamah said.
The St. Louis American Foundation's 21st Annual Salute to Excellence in Health Care Awards will be celebrated as a free virtual event at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 29. For additional details and registration, please visit givebutter.com/2021HealthSalute.