Purpose: The influential role of family in the outcome of chronic schizophrenia is well documented. However, there has been relatively little research on the intrafamilial relationships of people experiencing their first episode of psychosis (FEP), a point in time when most of the changes in family dynamics are observed. The aim of this article is to present a review of the literature focusing on the family environment of FEP patients.
Methods: We carried out a computerized literature search on MEDLINE and PsycINFO (1990-2013), and a manual search of references of pertinent articles. In total, 27 studies investigating expressed emotion (EE) and family burden (FB) in FEP were identified and fulfilled the inclusion criteria.
Results: Similar to chronic patients, a high prevalence of high-EE in carers of FEP patients was reported. High-EE status appears to be independent of the patient's illness-related characteristics, but dependent of relatives' attributions. In contrast to chronic patients, low levels of FB and psychological distress among family members of FEP patients were observed indicating that in the early stages of the illness family involvement is not yet associated with significant disruption in their lives. Studies assessing FB in chronic patients have found a well-established link of FB with patient's illness-related factors, but in FEP patients the families' appraisal of FB is more closely associated with their coping mechanisms.
Conclusions: Further studies evaluating family functioning in terms of cohesion and adaptability will shed light on the intrafamilial relationships in FEP patients which may be associated with the long-term outcome of this chronic illness.