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Early Intervention: Why is it Needed?

Several studies have shown that there is often a major delay in initiating treatment for people affected by a psychotic disorder. These delays vary widely from person to person, but in many studies the interval between onset of psychotic symptoms and commencement of appropriate treatment is more than one year.

Developmental Delay

As a consequence of these delays in treatment, significant disruption can occur at a critical developmental stage and significant secondary problems can develop. The longer the period of untreated illness, the greater the risk for psychological and social disruption and secondary morbidity (morbidity: other problems that occur after the illness starts such as depression) for the person and their family.

A psychotic episode commonly isolates the person from others and impairs family and social relationships. Difficulties in school and work performance arise and secondary problems such as unemployment, substance abuse, depression, self harm or suicide and illegal behaviour can occur or intensify.

Poorer Outcomes

Some evidence shows that long delays in treatment may cause the illness to become less responsive to treatment. It has been found that delays in receiving treatment are associated with slower and less complete recovery and that long duration of psychotic symptoms before treatment appears to contribute to poorer prognosis and a greater chance of early relapse. It is hypothesized that untreated psychosis causes greater biological entrenchment of schizophrenia.

Delayed Treatment Can Result In:

  • Interference with psychological and social development
  • Strain on relationships or loss of family and social supports
  • Disruption of parenting role in young parents with psychosis
  • Distress and increased psychological problems within the person's family
  • Disruption of study
  • Disruption of employment and unemployment
  • Slower and less complete recovery
  • Poorer prognosis
  • Depression and suicide
  • Substance abuse
  • Illegal behaviour
  • Unnecessary hospitalization
  • Increased economic cost to the community

Benefits of Early Intervention:

  • Reduced morbidity
  • Preservation of psychosocial skills
  • Preservation of family and social supports
  • Decreased need for hospitalization
  • More rapid recovery
  • Better prognosis

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