Early detection and secondary prevention of psychosis: facts and visions*

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Abstract.

As effective and practical approaches to primary and universal prevention of psychosis are lacking, intervention efforts are targeted at the early stages of schizophrenia to prevent (by way of secondary prevention) or postpone psychosis onset, reduce severity of illness or at least ameliorate the social consequences involved. Early intervention requires early detection and early recognition (diagnosis) of persons at risk and early prediction of psychosis. Within the German Research Network on Schizophrenia (GRNS) awareness programmes are being carried out in several German cities, and these efforts are already improving utilisation of early-recognition and early-prediction services by at risk persons. The empirical basis of developing a two-step early-recognition inventory and strategies of application will be discussed. This instrument is supplemented by a set of cognitive tests, prospectively validated in the GRNS. Results from preliminary analysis of data covering a two-year period demonstrate that the inventory and the cognitive tests are readily accepted. When used for screening in non-specialist settings and at the next level, i. e. at early-recognition centres, they seem to permit identification of at-risk persons. Early intervention is being tested 1) in a randomised controlled multi-centre trial consisting of a specially developed cognitive-behavioural therapy in the early (prepsychotic) prodromal state and 2) on additional treatment with appropriate doses of amisulpride in the late prodromal (early psychotic) state. Preliminary data from Study 1 covering 16.3 months show significantly fewer transitions to psychosis and from Study 2 reduced positive and negative symptoms and improved global functioning compared with controls who had received normal clinical treatment. As a result, both the early-recognition inventory plus cognitive tests and the two therapy strategies are feasible. We hope that the favourable trend indicated by the preliminary data will be confirmed in the final analysis planned for 2005 and the objective of implementing effective and practical secondary prevention of psychosis and its consequences will be attained.

* This paper was written within the framework of the German Research Network on Schizophrenia and was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research BMBF (grant 01 GI 0236).