Young rural people at risk for schizophrenia: Time for mental health services to translate research evidence into best practice of care

Helen J. Stain, Scott Clark, Maryanne O'Donnell, Ulrich Schall

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Early intervention into prodromal schizophrenia has shown promise, but controversy continues regarding the ethical acceptability of identifying a group of 'ultra high risk' individuals of whom only 30 to 50% will develop a psychotic disorder. With well developed early intervention services this group faces the possibility of being labelled as 'pre-psychotic', a condition for which the well known stigma associated with the diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is likely to be associated. In addition, the use of potent antipsychotic and other medications (albeit usually at lower doses than those used for those with manifest psychosis) mandates consideration of the risks associated with their use and neurological and metabolic side effects. The potential for iatrogenic morbidity in the 'false positive' group must be weighed against the need of the 'true positives' identified through screening and assessment. Current evidence for the concept of 'at-risk mental state' was reviewed within a neurodevelopmental framework, including emerging data on the effectiveness of early intervention for the purpose of providing recommendations for community mental health services. The review suggests that different treatment strategies may be appropriate depending on the clinical stage of the condition as long as the benefits of intervention outweigh its risk burden. It further suggests that the severity of psychoses and the evidence of its early onset in utero and its acceleration in adolescence positions 'ultra high risk' intervention as a core model for early intervention for young people by teasing apart the symptomatic components of the 'prepsychotic state' and ensuring the population is reaching targeted mental health services for screening. The model is not restricted to the delivery of intervention for 'pre-psychotic' young people but is applicable for targeted programmes for a number of clinical groups considered at 'ultra high risk'. However, only further research in naturalistic populations embedded in clinical practice and ideally conducted in partnership of mental health services with academic research institutions will help clarify potential risks of early identification and intervention and assist in updating and making more explicit the clinical guidelines services will use in approaching those in the 'ultra high risk' group.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)872-882
Number of pages11
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Early intervention
  • Psychosis
  • Rural mental health


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