The rationale for early intervention in schizophrenia and related disorders
To examine the rationale and evidence supporting an early intervention approach in schizophrenia. A selective literature review was conducted. During the onset of schizophrenia, there is often a significant delay between the emergence of psychotic symptoms and the initiation of treatment. The average duration of untreated psychosis is around 1-2 years. During this period, brain function may continue to deteriorate and social networks can be irreversibly damaged. Studies have consistently linked longer duration of untreated psychosis with poorer outcomes and this relationship holds even after controlling for the potential confounding variable of premorbid functioning. In Norway, the early Treatment and Intervention in PSychosis study demonstrated that duration of untreated psychosis is amenable to intervention with the combination of educational campaigns and specialized early detection units substantially decreasing the period from onset of symptoms to treatment initiation. Furthermore, recent evidence from the randomized controlled OPUS and the Lambeth Early Onset trial studies have linked phase-specific early interventions to improved outcomes spanning symptoms, adherence to treatment, comorbid drug abuse, relapse and readmission. Some benefits persist after cessation of the intervention. Early intervention in schizophrenia is justified to reduce the negative personal and social impact of prolonged periods of untreated symptoms. Furthermore, phase-specific interventions are associated with improved outcomes, at least in the short term. Further research is needed to establish the optimum duration of such programmes.