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Effect of delaying treatment of first-episode psychosis on symptoms and social outcomes: a longitudinal analysis and modelling study

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Richard J. Drake, Nusrat Husain, Max Marshall, Shôn W. Lewis, Barbara Tomenson, Imran B. Chaudhry, Linda Everard, Swaran Singh, Nick Freemantle, David Fowler, Peter B. Jones, Tim Amos, Vimal Sharma, Chloe D. Green, Helen Fisher, Robin M. Murray, Til Wykes, Iain Buchan, Max Birchwood

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)602-610
Number of pages9
JournalThe Lancet Psychiatry
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

King's Authors


Background: Delayed treatment for first episodes of psychosis predicts worse outcomes. We hypothesised that delaying treatment makes all symptoms more refractory, with harm worsening first quickly, then more slowly. We also hypothesised that although delay impairs treatment response, worse symptoms hasten treatment, which at presentation mitigates the detrimental effect of treatment delay on symptoms. Methods: In this longitudinal analysis and modelling study, we included two longitudinal cohorts of patients with first-episode psychosis presenting to English early intervention services from defined catchments: NEDEN (recruiting 1003 patients aged 14–35 years from 14 services between Aug 1, 2005, and April 1, 2009) and Outlook (recruiting 399 patients aged 16–35 years from 11 services between April 1, 2006, and Feb 28, 2009). Patients were assessed at baseline, 6 months, and 12 months with the Positive and Negative Symptom Scale (PANSS), Calgary Depression Scale for Schizophrenia, Mania Rating Scale, Insight Scale, and Social and Occupational Functioning Assessment Scale. Regression was used to compare different models of the relationship between duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) and total symptoms at 6 months. Growth curve models of symptom subscales tested predictions arising from our hypotheses. Findings: We included 948 patients from the NEDEN study and 332 patients from the Outlook study who completed baseline assessments and were prescribed dopamine antagonist antipsychotics. For both cohorts, the best-fitting models were logarithmic, describing a curvilinear relationship of DUP to symptom severity: longer DUP predicted reduced treatment response, but response worsened more slowly as DUP lengthened. Increasing DUP by ten times predicted reduced improvement in total symptoms (ie, PANSS total) by 7·339 (95% CI 5·762 to 8·916; p<0·0001) in NEDEN data and 3·846 (1·689 to 6·003; p=0·0005) in Outlook data. This was true of treatment response for all symptom types. Nevertheless, longer DUP was not associated with worse presentation for any symptoms except depression in NEDEN (coefficients 0·099 [95% CI 0·033 to 0·164]; p=0·0028 in NEDEN and 0·007 [−0·081 to 0·095]; p=0·88 in Outlook). Interpretation: Long DUP was associated with reduced treatment response across subscales, consistent with a harmful process upstream of individual symptoms' mechanisms; response appeared to worsen quickly at first, then more slowly. These associations underscore the importance of rapid access to a comprehensive range of treatments, especially in the first weeks after psychosis onset. Funding: UK Department of Health, National Institute of Health Research, and Medical Research Council.

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