Clinical psychopathology in youth at familial high risk for psychosis

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While the course of psychopathology has been explored from an index mental health diagnosis onwards, there are few detailed, prospective studies of the occurrence of clinical psychopathology in youth with familial risk for severe mental illnesses such as psychosis. We sought to describe the appearance of Axis I psychopathology in a unique sample of adolescents with a family history of schizophrenia (FHR).


One hundred and sixty two first- and second-degree relatives (mean age 15.7 ± 3.6; range 8-25) of probands with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder were assessed at baseline and annual intervals for up to 3 years, focusing on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) Axis I psychopathology.


Fourteen individuals (8.6%) developed a psychotic disorder. One hundred and five subjects (65%) met criteria for an Axis I disorder over the course of the study, the most common of which was a depressive episode (40 subjects; 25%). Of the 148 individuals who did not develop psychosis, 91 (61%) had one or more Axis I disorders compared with 10/14 converters who had a comorbid Axis I disorder (71%). Ordered by increasing age of onset, diagnoses included cognitive and externalizing disorders, anxiety disorders, affective disorders, substance use disorders and psychotic disorders.


In addition to an elevated risk of psychosis, young FHR relatives manifest a broad range of non-psychotic Axis I psychopathology in childhood and adolescence. This breadth of diagnoses has implications for the structure and function of mental health services for young people.

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