Is the Clinical High-Risk State a Valid Concept? Retrospective Examination in a First-Episode Psychosis Sample

Psychiatr Serv. 2017 Oct 1;68(10):1046-1052. doi: 10.1176/ Epub 2017 Jun 15.


Objective: One reason for worldwide interest in the clinical high-risk (CHR) state for psychosis is its potential as a target for prevention. However, the feasibility and utility of early intervention initiatives that are focused on this stage involve an untested assumption: that most patients with a first episode of psychosis (FEP) experience earlier CHR symptoms. The objective of this study was to identify and characterize the proportion of FEP patients who had experienced such symptoms prior to the onset of their psychosis.

Methods: Semistructured interviews of 351 patients and families with the Circumstances of Onset and Relapse Schedule were supplemented by chart reviews in a catchment area-based sample of FEP patients. Information was extracted regarding pathways to care and psychiatric and behavioral changes over time. Experts (N=30) working in FEP and CHR settings identified which of 27 early signs and symptoms constitute attenuated positive or subthreshold psychotic symptoms (APSPS) if they appear prior to a syndromal-level psychotic episode.

Results: Nine early signs and symptoms were endorsed by the experts as representing APSPS. More than half of consenting patients, and two-thirds (68%) of those who completed all assessments, had experienced at least one such sign or symptom prior to their FEP. The groups with and without APSPS were similar in social, demographic, and clinical characteristics.

Conclusions: Most consenting patients with an FEP had experienced previous signs and symptoms consistent with a CHR state prior to the onset of threshold-level psychotic symptoms, although a substantial minority had not. This finding validates the viability of the CHR construct as a potential target for early case identification and preventive and therapeutic interventions.

Keywords: Clinical High-Risk; Early intervention; First Episode; Psychopathology; Psychoses; Transition.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Early Medical Intervention / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prodromal Symptoms*
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Psychotic Disorders / physiopathology
  • Psychotic Disorders / therapy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Young Adult