Psychosis: Study shows prevention can work

Managing Psychosis

For people living with psychosis, getting symptoms under control can be priority number one for themselves and their families. But new research emphasizes how important it is to look beyond what’s happening today.

What is psychosis

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) describes psychosis as a serious but treatable medical condition that “reflects a disturbance in brain functioning”. Put simply, something in the brain is not working right.

Psychotic conditions include schizophrenia and other disorders can be identified with or without psychotic features, like bipolar disorder.

The first time symptoms of psychosis appear is called the first episode. Most people recover from this first episode, and then symptoms are sometimes ignored. However, the risks of doing so are quite high:

  • When psychosis affects younger people, 80% will have a relapse within five years.
  • The more relapses someone has, the more persistent the psychosis will become – and the less effective prescription medications will be.

Research looks at benefits of non-medicinal treatment

There are generally two ways to treat psychosis:

  • prescription medication (also called pharmacological treatment) and
  • non-medicinal treatment (also called therapeutic or psychosocial treatment) for the individual and their family – which may include stress management, education, individual support, and identifying signs that might indicate a relapse.

Medications are effective at managing certain symptoms, but the benefit of the non-medicinal therapies has been less well documented.

Looking at results from 18 existing studies of people living with psychosis, the authors of this report found not only that non-medicinal treatment can be very effective for managing psychosis, but that interventions that try specifically to prevent a relapse may be even more beneficial.

How this study impacts our work

Stevenson, Waplak & Associates has always combined treatments to get the best results for each person, and this study adds evidence that this approach works.

“Our goal is to quickly target disruptive symptoms, help the individual return to their previous level of functioning, and increase their overall quality of life,” explained Jeffrey Waplak, clinical director for Stevenson, Waplak & Associates. “Once the symptoms are under control it’s easy for people to forget that preventative therapy has an important purpose.”

If anything, Waplak said the study shows a need for more focus on these wrap-around services. “Typically, someone with psychosis is confused by what is happening to them, and the people around them don’t know what to do or how to help,” he explained. “Having support available with a comprehensive plan in place can be very effective to help teach what is occurring, develop lifestyle changes, and learn skills to handle daily stressors to minimize relapses.”

What happens next

“Ideally, more research will be done to follow-up on this study,” said Waplak. “Are there certain psychosocial treatments that work better than others? Do these findings hold true when other factors are considered, like a younger age of onset or gradual onset of symptoms – both of which usually mean more complicated care?”

Read more about the study here.