Psychiatric disorders represent highly impairing conditions, often underdiagnosed and undertreated, with a conspicuous duration of untreated illness (DUI). Given that social and cultural factors influence the DUI and assuming that progress in diagnosis and treatment determines a reduced latency to pharmacotherapy, we assessed and compared DUI and related variables in a large sample of psychiatric patients (n = 562) whose onset occurred within three different a priori-defined epochs.Methods:
Two temporal cut-offs were established – the year 1978, when Law 180 (redefining standards for mental care) was introduced in Italy, and the year 2000 – in order to divide patients into three subgroups: onset before 1978, onset 1978–2000 and onset after 2000.Results:
A significant difference in terms of age at onset, age at first diagnosis and age at first treatment was observed in patients with onset 1978–2000 and in those with onset after 2000. In addition, a significant reduction of the DUI was found across epochs (onset before 1978: 192.25 ± 184.52 months; onset 1978–2000: 77.00 ± 96.63 months; and onset after 2000: 19.00 ± 31.67 months; P < 0.001). Furthermore, the proportion of patients with onset-related stressful events, use of benzodiazepines and neurological referral was found to be significantly different between the three epochs (χ2 = 23.4, P < 0.001; χ2 = 9.92, P = 0.007; χ2 = 16.50, P = 0.011).Conclusions:
Present data indicate a progressive, statistically significant reduction of latency to treatment and other related changes across subsequent epochs of onset in patients with different psychiatric disorders. Future studies will assess specific changes within homogeneous diagnostic subgroups.