Early Psychosis Programs

What is an Early Psychosis Program?

Early Psychosis

depressed teenEarly psychosis or “first-episode psychosis” refers to the period of time when an adolescent or young adult experiences symptoms of psychosis for the first time. According to the NIMH, each year approximately 100,000 adolescents and young adults will experience first-episode psychosis, with a peak onset occurring between ages 15-25. Symptoms of psychosis can include withdrawal from friends or family, hearing voices or seeing things that others do not, losing touch with reality, unusual thoughts or beliefs, disorganized thinking or behavior, and unusual fears or suspicions of others. In addition, a young person may exhibit other warning signs that include depression, anxiety, sleep problems, lack of motivation, and difficulty functioning overall.  At this time of early psychosis, the young person may or may not have received a diagnosis of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder.

There are many causes for psychosis and it is most commonly associated with the onset of a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.  Other conditions that can result in psychosis include sleep deprivation, medical conditions and neurological disorders, specific prescription medications, and the misuse of alcohol or other drugs, such as marijuana.

A first episode of psychosis can be a traumatic experience for the young adult and a time of confusion and unanswered questions for the family.   Young adulthood is a time when young people progress through the life stages of going to school or college, starting a career, and developing relationships and psychosis can interrupt these normal life progressions.  Young adults may not have an understanding of or insight about their psychosis, and they may be difficult to communicate with or engage in treatment.  Connecting a young adult with early intervention, within two to three years after a first episode, offers real hope, and the earlier a young adult with psychosis is connected with treatment, the better the outcome. Early psychosis programs can prevent much of the negative impact and disability associated with a psychotic illness and can help a young person recover and get back on the track of young adulthood.

Marijuana and Psychosis

Over the past decade, there has been an increase in marijuana use, both recreationally and medicinally, as well as an increase in the availability of high-concentration THC marijuana products.  Studies have shown that the use of high concentration THC products almost doubles the odds of having psychosis and that individuals who use marijuana daily were three times more likely to have a psychotic episode compared with someone who never used the drug.  (Lancet Psychiatry)

Find out more about psychosis risks related to teen and young adult marijuana use in our guest blog post Dabs, Wax, Vaping Weed, Edibles and the Real Impact of High Potency THC Products: What Parents Need to Know

Read more in a blog post by Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D.  The Popularization of Weed/Cannabis & Its Effect on Our Youth

What ages do early psychosis programs serve?

Ages vary depending on the specific program. In general, early psychosis programs provide support and services to youth and young adults, ages 15-30 or 35.

What do the early psychosis programs offer?

teen friendsEarly psychosis programs offer Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC), a multidisciplinary team approach.  CSC uses a shared decision-making process whereby the mental health care team, the young adult, and family work together to make decisions about the array and delivery of services. Care teams can include psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors, and rehabilitation counselors.  Depending upon the individual’s needs and preferences, services include case management, individual counseling, family education and support, social skills groups, and work or education support.  Psychiatrists provide medication management (pharmacotherapy), and nurses coordinate the young person’s physical health care.

Services typically include:

  • Individual and group psychotherapy
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Medication management
  • Case management
  • Help finding a job or going to school using supported employment and supported education services
  • Social skills training
  • Family education and support
  • Coordination with primary health care

Why early treatment is important?

Early treatment may minimize or prevent the long-term impact of psychosis and allows the young adult to regain his or her functioning and get back to the typical life tasks that young adults pursue, including going to school, working, and developing social connections and personal relationships.  The National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) research project on early psychosis treatment, called RAISE (Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode), found that young people who receive coordinated specialty care (CSC) early on in their illness get significantly better — they remain in school, continue working, and stay on track with their lives.

Read more about the RAISE project and Coordinated Specialty Care for early psychosis treatment.

How to Find an Early Psychosis Program:

As of 2018, a total of 270 coordinated specialty care programs  were operating across the U.S. (NAMI)

 Learn More About Early Psychosis:

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