Mental Health Awareness Month

Patrice Peterson is a ‘voice of hope’ for people recovering from mental illness


Baldwin resident Patrice Peterson, who had been initially misdiagnosed with full schizophrenia disorder, found a treatment in 2021 that she said changed her life forever.

For the past 10 years, Peterson has been able to avoid a hospital stay, due in part to her participation in a clinical trial. After being correctly diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at Northwell Health’s Zucker Hillside Hospital in 2013, she was the perfect candidate for the trial.

Peterson decided to participate in a transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, study involving a technique that is an FDA-approved treatment for depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The technique is also being investigated for use on patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders to improve their social cognitive function.

“Being in the study and having a treatment team has really helped me,” Peterson, 40, said. Her success in the program is what made her willing to share her story. She said she feels very fortunate, and wants to “pay it forward.”

“I would just really like to be part of the solution of reducing stigma around mental illness,” Peterson said. “I know there’s a huge stigma on mental illness, and I can’t fix it by myself, but I just want people to know that recovery is possible.”

Peterson spoke up because so many people, especially since the pandemic, are suffering with mental health challenges.

“I really just want to be a voice of hope with my recovery story,” she said.

Although Peterson still has her ups and downs, she is doing much better than ever before. Her journey started more than 10 years ago when she was misdiagnosed with full schizophrenia disorder. Through treatment at Zucker, it was later revealed that her disorder was actually schizoaffective disorder.

“Schizoaffective is a mood disorder,” Peterson said. “I had the depressive type of the disorder, and my diagnosis was very important to me, because once I got to Zucker and got the correct diagnosis, I was able to get the right treatments.”

Some of the treatments involved therapy, psychosocial programs and medication, she said.

“That really helped me to really go from kind of getting by to be thriving today,” Peterson said.

By telling her story, she conveys the importance of getting a correct diagnosis, since that is what helped her prosper through various treatments. In 2021, Peterson underwent the transcranial magnetic stimulation, a transformative treatment that helped her reduce the number of therapy visits she needed.

Anil Malhotra, researcher at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, explained that through TMS, a coil is placed against the skull, allowing repetitive magnetic pulses to go off every 30 minutes. The pulses then induce electrical changes in the brain, helping patients like Peterson develop fewer depressive episodes.

“It definitely helped with my mood,” Peterson said about the TMS treatment.

“So I did notice that I felt better and it was great.”

The treatments only lasted every day for about two weeks in 2021. She pointed out that it was non-invasive and did not hurt at all.

If Peterson ever develops depressive episodes again, she can receive more TMS treatments, she said.

However, Peterson added, “so far so good” and hopes to continue this streak of no major depressive episodes.

Peterson said that although her disorder hasn’t been cured, it is being “managed.” She hasn’t had any relapses since 2013, but still gets low moods from time to time.

The change in Peterson’s life since the treatment has been very positive, she added.

“I actually reduced the frequency of my therapy sessions because my psychiatrist said that I was doing so well that continuing to meet frequently on a weekly basis would actually be more of a disservice to me,” Peterson said.

“So now I have to meet bi-weekly, which was the biggest win and our sessions seem to be getting shorter.”

With her mental health greatly improving, Peterson said she would like to go back to school to earn a master’s degree.