Early intervention and a five year follow up in young adults with a short duration of untreated psychosis: ethical implications

Schizophr Res. 2001 Aug 1;51(1):55-61. doi: 10.1016/s0920-9964(01)00239-0.


In a Dutch treatment intervention study of patients (n=76) with first psychotic episodes of schizophrenia the hypothesis tested was whether early differential treatment after an acute psychotic break improved outcome as compared with other studies. Patients had a relatively short duration of untreated psychosis. No significant effect between two treatment conditions on relapse rate was found. The 15-month intervention program kept the psychotic relapse rate as low as 15%; lower than comparable studies. Thus, the initial results were in support of the hypothesis. After completion of the 15 months study, patients were referred to other agencies and followed for five years. Results of the follow up study showed that the low relapse rate could not be maintained. Of the remaining 71 patients of the initial sample, 52% had one or more psychotic relapses, 25% developed chronic positive symptoms and 23% did not have another psychotic episode. In addition, the level of social functioning turned out to be low: the majority of patients were dependent upon their parents, few held down a skilled or paid job and also their quality of life seemed low, results indicate that early intervention may improve short term but not long term outcome in schizophrenia. Our results also suggest that referral to other mental health agencies after intervention is not sufficient. Continuity of outpatient care, including continuity of a professional relationship, continuity of support for the family, and the continuity in management of illness, medication and stress may be a key issue in the first five years after the onset of psychosis in schizophrenia. Early recognition and intervention may not nearly be as important for outcome as continuity in care and caregivers. At present, however, it remains questionable whether early intervention programs in first-episode patients with a short duration of untreated psychosis can offer the prospect of altering the course of schizophrenia without a sustained comprehensive treatment program.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antipsychotic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Chronic Disease
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Continuity of Patient Care
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Patient Care Team
  • Preventive Health Services
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychotic Disorders / therapy*
  • Recurrence
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis
  • Schizophrenia / therapy*
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder / therapy*


  • Antipsychotic Agents