Psychotic Symptoms in Young People Foreshadow Later Problems

Psychotic Symptoms in Young People Foreshadow Later Problems

Posted: December 3, 2014

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Doctors would like to be able to better predict which young people will go on to develop schizophrenia. To that end, researchers have developed a set of criteria describing people who have an "ultra-high" risk of developing a psychotic disorder (a category that includes schizophrenia). About a third of people who meet these criteria will go on to develop a psychotic disorder within three years. But what happens to the other two-thirds? A new study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests they are still likely to suffer some psychiatric problems.

Ashleigh Lin, Ph.D., of the University of Birmingham, U.K., and 2003 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grantee Alison Yung, M.D., of the University of Manchester, U.K., led the study. They followed up with ultra-high risk patients who were evaluated at an Australian clinic between 1993 and 2006. Sixty-eight percent of study participants experienced at least one non-psychotic disorder at some point during the follow-up period. Nearly half of the study participants had a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder; 35 percent had anxiety disorder; and 29 percent had a substance-use disorder. Many of the participants who had a non-psychotic disorder when they first visited the clinic had the same disorder at their follow-up. “We found that over 50 percent of those who had disorders when the study began were still experiencing them at follow-up,” said Dr. Yung.

At follow-up, 28 percent of study participants were still having psychotic symptoms. This could mean that they remained at risk of developing schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, or it could mean that they had an untreated disorder, such as depression, which can sometimes have psychotic features. Dr. Yung is now looking into these possibilities.

For Dr. Yung, the take-home message from this study is clear: “It’s a significant finding because it indicates—from a planning point of view—that if you want to find a group of young people who are likely to be in need of care over a long period of time, then the ultra-high risk criteria are a good way of doing that.”

Also contributing to this research were NARSAD Grantees Stephen Wood, Ph.D. (2009 and 2005 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee), Barnaby Nelson, Ph.D. (2008 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee), and Patrick McGorry, M.D., Ph.D. (1998 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee).

Read an abstract of this research paper.