In a study from University College Dublin, scientists found the risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may be detectable years before the illnesses begin.
They found that 50% of people who developed these mental health disorders had attended specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in childhood.
The findings suggest the possibility of earlier intervention and even prevention.
Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are serious mental illnesses affecting about 65 million people worldwide.
Both disorders are usually diagnosed in adulthood and are often associated with high levels of disability, and personal and societal cost. Early intervention, however, is known to lead to better outcomes for people affected by these illnesses.
In the study, researchers used Finland’s world-leading healthcare registers to trace all individuals born in 1987 throughout childhood and adolescence to see if, between birth and age 17 years, they ever attended CAMHS.
Using unique patient identifiers, the researchers were then able to follow all these individuals up to age 28 years and see who went on to be diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
They found that the risk of psychosis or bipolar disorder by age 28 years old was 1.8% for individuals who had not attended CAMHS.
For individuals who had attended outpatient CAMHS in adolescence, however, the risk was 15% and for individuals who had been admitted to an inpatient adolescent CAMHS hospital, the risk was 37%.
This research shows the power of electronic healthcare registers to answer important questions about human health and disease.
It demonstrates how healthcare register data can be used to better understand pathways to serious mental illness, from childhood into adulthood, and to identify critical opportunities for early intervention.
These findings highlight the possibility of intervening far earlier than scientists do at present, even in childhood and adolescence, to prevent these serious mental illnesses from emerging”
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The study was conducted by Professor Ian Kelleher et al and published in World Psychiatry.
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