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Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2010 Mar;45(3):381-91. doi: 10.1007/s00127-009-0081-x. Epub 2009 Jul 4.

First episode psychosis and the trail to secondary care: help-seeking and health-system delays.

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  • 1Early Intervention Psychosis Service, DETECT, Avila House, Block 5, Blackrock Business Park, Blackrock Co., Dublin, Ireland.



People experience delays in receiving effective treatment for many illnesses including psychosis. These delays have adverse consequences in heart disease and cancer, and their causes have been the subject of much research but only in recent years have pathways to care in psychosis received such attention. We sought to establish if, when and where people seek help in the early phase of psychosis in a representative sample.


One hundred and sixty-five people with first episode psychosis, referred from community-based psychiatric services and a private psychiatric facility to an early intervention service over 18 months, were interviewed with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV diagnoses. Symptoms were measured using the Schedule for the Assessment of Positive Symptoms, Schedule for the Assessment of Negative Symptoms and the Calgary Scale. Duration of untreated illness (DUI) and duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) were established using the Beiser Scale. Pathways to mental health services were systematically detailed through interviews with patients and their families.


The final sample consisted of 142 (88M, 54F) cases after those with psychosis due to a general medical condition and those without pathway and DUP data were excluded. Less than half of participants initiated help seeking themselves. Of those who did seek help (n = 57) 25% did so during the DUI. Those who had a positive family history of mental illness and poorer premorbid adjustment were significantly less likely to seek help for themselves and those who did not seek help were more likely to require hospitalisation. Families were involved in help seeking for 50% of cases and in 1/3 of cases did so without the affected individual participating in the contact. Being younger and having more negative symptoms were associated with having one's family involved in help seeking. Delays to effective treatment from the onset of psychosis were evenly split between "help-seeking delays" and "health-system delays". Having a family member involved in help seeking and better premorbid adjustment were independently associated with shorter help-seeking delays when measured from the onset of psychosis. Being female, having better premorbid adjustment and fewer negative symptoms were associated with shorter help-seeking delays from the onset of illness. Those with a non-affective psychosis had significantly longer system delays.


Many people with first episode psychosis do not initiate help-seeking for themselves particularly those with a relative affected by mental illness. Those with poor premorbid adjustment are at particular risk of longer delays. Poor premorbid adjustment compounded by long delays to effective treatment reduces the likelihood of a good outcome. Families play a vital role in hastening receipt of effective treatment.

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