An initial episode of psychosis can be debilitating and frightening for patients and their families. Approximately 3% of people will experience a psychotic episode at some stage in their life. Usually, a first episode occurs in adolescence or early adulthood, an important time for the development of identity, relationships and long-term vocational plans.
Proactive support and intervention improve clinical outcomes and avoid traumatic and costly hospital admissions, yet treatment is often delayed. Numerous studies have shown there is often a significant lag time, more than a year, in initiating treatment for people affected by psychosis. Multiple factors may lead to delays in seeking treatment, including fear, stigma, and difficulty recognizing early symptoms. As a result, this condition often goes unrecognized and untreated.
As a consequence of treatment delays, significant disruption can occur at a critical developmental stage along with the formation of secondary problems. The longer the period of untreated illness, the greater the risk for psychosocial disruption and secondary morbidity for the person and their family. Difficulties in school and work performance arise and problems such as unemployment, substance abuse, depression, self-harm or suicide and illegal behavior can occur or intensify. A psychotic episode commonly isolates the person from others and impairs family and social relationships.
Primary care, which is often the initial point of contact for people seeking help with psychological health concerns, has a crucial role to play in ensuring that early intervention occurs. It is important to pay attention to strategies aimed at reducing the personal, social and economic strain of these conditions on affected individuals, their families and the community. Early intervention in first-episode psychosis is aimed at shortening the course and decreasing the severity of the initial psychotic episode, thereby minimizing the many complications that can arise from untreated psychosis. Appropriate early intervention can provide significant long-term benefits.
To achieve maximal recovery, a supportive and collaborative approach utilizing specialized resources is essential. A biopsychosocial strategy is aimed at treating the person’s primary symptoms and assisting them in overcoming the secondary personal and social difficulties that the condition may create. With comprehensive care, full symptomatic recovery from the first episode of psychosis is expected.