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Photo by Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine’s assistant professor of psychiatry, Irene Hurford, is one of five recipients nationwide to be awarded the 2017 Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

NAMI is America’s largest grassroots mental health organization. It focuses on providing education programs, advocating for public policy as it relates to those with mental illness and leading public awareness events and activities. Each year, it also awards the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award to those who “improve the lives of people living with mental health conditions.”

Hurford, who started working for Penn in 2009, said Penn’s worldwide reputation helps her projects get “a second look” from supporters. She also said that the support of her fellow colleagues has been invaluable to her.

The award honors Hurford’s career devoted to psychosis research and treatment. Hurford said her interest in the disorder began in her childhood. Psychosis affecting young people her own age, at the time, particularly interested her.

“Psychosis struck me as really strange and interesting that people could have a different perception of reality,” Hurford said. “Usually we take reality for granted, but for many, reality is shifting and unreliable.”

She developed the Psychosis Education, Assessment, Care and Empowerment program, which intervenes in the early stages of psychosis. As director of the program, she helps individuals in Philadelphia overcome symptoms of psychosis. While the program includes peer and family counseling, there is also a focus on education and work support to help people achieve their life goals, especially since individuals assisted by this program also often struggle with poverty.

Hurford’s experience in establishing PEACE has allowed her to develop and advise similar projects throughout the state. In Pennsylvania, she is the principal investigator for statewide program evaluation of first episode psychosis programs.

She said she aims to “make the effort statewide and not just local.”