Key to improved psychosis treatment lies in early diagnosis

Readers may have misconceptions about the onset or progression of mental disabilities. For example, some may be surprised to learn that the onset of certain mental health conditions may be gradual, or may only partially impair an individual’s functioning.

In the case of one female Harvard graduate student, a delayed diagnosis of her mental disability, schizophrenia, needlessly created obstacles to her social and educational development. The woman suspected that something might be causing her antisocial compulsions, such as locking herself in her apartment and hearing voices in her head. However, she was unable to admit those symptoms to a health professional.

She went to see a neurologist, who found no tumors in a diagnostic imaging scan of her brain, and consequently pronounced her healthy. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia until six years later. By then, her symptoms were becoming unmanageable.

The Social Security Administration’s blue book, or listing of eligible disabilities, does include Social Security disability benefits on the basis of a mental disability, such as psychosis, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. However, this woman hopes her story will lead to earlier diagnoses of psychosis.

There is a need for better detection of early symptoms, which can include hallucinations, like hearing voices, or delusions about false fears or suspicions. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 100,000 American teens and young adults every year experience their first psychotic episode. With early diagnosis, the disruption caused by this condition might be minimized, allowing youth to continue on to college or their post-high school plans.

Source:, “Early care for psychosis catches on, raises questions,” Kim Painter, Nov. 17, 2013