Early intervention in psychosis
Early intervention in psychosis is a clinical approach to those experiencing symptoms of psychosis for the first time. It forms part of a new prevention paradigm for psychiatry and is leading to reform of mental health services, especially in the United Kingdom  and Australia.
This approach centers on the early detection and treatment of early symptoms of psychosis during the formative years of the psychotic condition. The first three to five years are believed by some to be a critical period. The aim is to reduce the usual delays to treatment for those in their first episode of psychosis. The provision of optimal treatments in these early years is thought to prevent relapses and reduce the long-term impact of the condition. It is considered a secondary prevention strategy.
- 1 Components of the model
- 2 History
- 3 Clinical outcome evidence
- 4 Evidence on cost
- 5 Reform of mental health services
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Components of the model
There are a number of functional components of the early psychosis model, and they can be structured as different sub-teams within early psychosis services. The emerging pattern of sub-teams are currently:
Early psychosis treatment teams
Multidisciplinary clinical teams providing an intensive case management approach for the first three to five years. The approach is similar to assertive community treatment, but with an increased focus on the engagement and treatment of this previously untreated population and the provision of evidence based, optimal interventions for clients in their first episode of psychosis. For example, the use of low-dose antipsychotic medication is promoted ("start low, go slow"), with a need for monitoring of side effects and an intensive and deliberate period of psycho-education for patients and families that are new to the mental health system. Interventions to prevent a further episodes of psychosis (a "relapse") and strategies that encourage a return to normal vocation and social activity are a priority. There is a concept of phase specific treatment for acute, early recovery and late recovery periods in the first episode of psychosis.
Early detection function
Interventions aimed at improving the detection and engagement of those early in the course of their psychotic conditions. Key tasks include being aware of early signs of psychosis and improving pathways into treatment. Teams provide information and education to the general public and assist GPs with recognition and response to those with suspected signs, for example: EPPIC's Youth Access Team (YAT) (Melbourne); OPUS (Denmark); TIPS (Norway); REDIRECT (Birmingham); LEO CAT (London).
Prodrome or at risk mental state clinics are specialist services for those with subclinical symptoms of psychosis or other indicators of risk of transition to psychosis. The Pace Clinic in Melbourne, Australia, is considered one of the origins of this strategy, but a number of other services and research centers have since developed.  These services are able to reliably identify those at high risk of developing psychosis and are beginning to publish encouraging outcomes from randomised controlled trials that reduce the chances of becoming psychotic, including evidence that psychological therapy and high doses of fish oil have a role in the prevention of psychosis. However, a meta-analysis of five trials found that while these interventions reduced risk of psychosis after 1 year (11% conversion to psychosis in intervention groups compared to 32% in control groups), these gains were not maintained over 2–3 years of follow-up. These findings indicate that interventions delay psychosis, but do not reduce the long-term risk. There has also been debate about the ethics of using antipsychotic medication to reduce the risk of developing psychosis, because of the potential harms involved with these medications.
In 2015, the European Psychiatric Association issued guidance recommending the use of the Cognitive Disturbances scale (COGDIS), a subscale of the basic symptoms scale, to assess psychosis risk; a meta-analysis conducted for the guidance found that while rates of conversion to psychosis were similar to those who meet Ultra High Risk (UHR) criteria up to 2 years after assessment, they were significantly higher after 2 years for those patients who met the COGDIS criteria. The COGDIS criteria measure subjective symptoms, and include such symptoms as thought interference, where irrelevant and emotionally unimportant thought contents interfere with the main line of thinking; thought block, where the current train of thought halts; thought pressure, where thoughts unrelated to a common topic appear uncontrollably; referential ideation that is immediately corrected; and other characteristic disturbances of attention and the use or understanding of language.
Early intervention in psychosis is a preventive approach for psychosis that has evolved as contemporary recovery views of psychosis and schizophrenia have gained acceptance. It subscribes to a "post Kraepelin" concept of schizophrenia, challenging the assumptions originally promoted by Emil Kraepelin in the 19th century, that schizophrenia ("dementia praecox") was a condition with a progressing and deteriorating course. The work of Post, whose kindling model, together with Fava and Kellner, who first adapted staging models to mental health, provided an intellectual foundation. Psychosis is now formulated within a diathesis–stress model, allowing a more hopeful view of prognosis, and expects full recovery for those with early emerging psychotic symptoms. It is more aligned with psychosis as continuum (such as with the concept of schizotypy) with multiple contributing factors, rather than schizophrenia as simply a neurobiological disease.
Within this changing view of psychosis and schizophrenia, the model has developed from a divergence of several different ideas, and from a number of sites, beginning with the closure of psychiatric institutions signaling a move toward community based care. In 1986, the Northwick Park study discovered an association between delays to treatment and disability, questioning the service provision for those with their first episode of schizophrenia. In the 1990s, evidence began to emerge that cognitive behavioural therapy was an effective treatment for delusions and hallucinations. The next step came with the development of the EPPIC early detection service in Melbourne, Australia in 1996 and the prodrome clinic led by Alison Yung. This service was an inspiration to other services, such as the West Midlands IRIS group, including the carer charity Rethink Mental Illness; the TIPS early detection randomised control trial in Norway; and the Danish OPUS trial. In 2001, the United Kingdom Department of Health called the development of early psychosis teams "a priority". The International Early Psychosis Association, founded in 1998, issued an international consensus declaration together with the World Health Organisation in 2004. Clinical practice guidelines have been written by consensus.
Clinical outcome evidence
A number of studies have been carried out to see whether the early psychosis approach reduces the severity of symptoms, improves relapse rates, and decreases the use of inpatient care, in comparison to standard care. A systematic review of randomised controlled trials by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that: "There is some support for specialised early intervention services, but further trials would be desirable, and there is a question of whether gains are maintained. There is some support for phase-specific treatment focused on employment and family therapy, but again, this needs replicating with larger and longer trials." Advocates of early intervention for psychosis have been accused of selectively citing findings that support the benefits of early intervention, but ignoring findings that do not. It has been argued that the scientific reporting of evidence on early intervention in psychosis is characterized by a high prevalence of ‘spin’ and ‘bias’. An analysis of the summaries of articles found that 75% implied positive results, whereas examination of the findings with primary measures from these studies found that only 13% were positive.
Evidence on cost
Studies have been published claiming that early psychosis services cost less than standard services, largely through reduced in-patient costs, and also save other costs to society. However, the claimed savings have been disputed. A 2012 systematic review of the evidence concluded that: "The published literature does not support the contention that early intervention for psychosis reduces costs or achieves cost-effectiveness".
Reform of mental health services
The United Kingdom has probably made the most significant service reform with their adoption of early psychosis teams, with early psychosis now considered as an integral part of comprehensive community mental health services. The Mental Health Policy Implementation Guide outlines service specifications and forms the basis of a newly developed fidelity tool. There is a requirement for services to reduce the duration of untreated psychosis, as this has been shown to be associated with better long-term outcome. The implementation guideline recommends:
- 14 to 35 year age entry criteria
- First three years of psychotic illness
- Aim to reduce the duration of untreated psychosis to less than 3 months
- Maximum caseload ratio of 1 care coordinator to 10–15 clients
- For every 250,000 (depending on population characteristics), one team
- Total caseload 120 to 150
- 1.5 doctors per team
- Other specialist staff to provide specific evidence based interventions
Australia and New Zealand
In Australia the EPPIC initiative provides early intervention services. In the Australian government's 2011 budget, $222.4 million was provided to fund 12 new EPPIC centres in collaboration with the states and territories. However, there have been criticisms of the evidence base for this expansion and of the claimed cost savings.
On August 19, 2011, McGorry, South Australian Social Inclusion Commissioner David Cappo AO and Frank Quinlan, CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, addressed a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), chaired by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, on the future direction of mental health policy and the need for priority funding for early intervention. The invitation, an initiative of South Australian Premier Mike Rann, followed the release of Cappo's "Stepping Up" report, supported by the Rann Government, which recommended a major overhaul of mental health in South Australia, including stepped levels of care and early intervention.
New Zealand has operated significant early psychosis teams for more than ten years, following the inclusion of early psychosis in a mental health policy document in 1997. There is a national early psychosis professional group, New Zealand Early Intervention in Psychosis Steering Group, organising training events and producing local resources.
Canada has extensive coverage across most provinces, including established clinical services and comprehensive academic research in British Columbia (Vancouver), Alberta (EPT in Calgary), and Ontario (PEPP, FEPP). In the United States, the Early Assessment Support Alliance (EASA) is implementing early psychosis intervention throughout the state of Oregon.
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- Initiative to Reduce Impact of Schizophrenia (IRIS)
- Psychosis sucks, British Columbia, Canada
- TIPS, Stavanger, Norway
- The Recognition and Prevention Program (RAP), Glen Oaks, NY, USA
- Early Assessment and Support Alliance Oregon, USA