Mental disorders a major problem for the young
[ Research Review 0809 : Melbourne Nueropsychiatry Centre and ORYGEN Research Centre ]
By Silvia Dropulich
Professor Patrick McGorry‚€™s team at the ORYGEN Research Centre, Victoria, has recently been awarded $10 million to continue its wide-ranging studies into mental disorders in young people.
The studies examine neurobiological, personal and social factors that affect the way a person moves from early symptoms to chronic disability, to reduce the impact of illness on a young person‚€™s life.
Professor McGorry has contributed significantly to research in the area of early psychosis over the past 20 years, playing a pivotal role in the development of service structures and treatments specifically targeting the needs of young people with emerging or first-episode psychosis.
‚€œMental disorders are a major cause of disability in Australia, especially for young people,‚€Ě Professor McGorry said.
‚€œWe have developed a clinical staging model covering the earliest symptoms through persistent disorder to chronic disability,‚€Ě he said.
‚€œWe are investigating neurobiological, personal and social factors which increase the risk of progression through these stages, and novel treatment strategies which may prevent or delay onset and relapse, reduce the impact of illness, and promote recovery.
‚€œMajor public health benefits and better understanding of the onset and progression of illness will result.‚€Ě
Seventy-five per cent of mental disorders emerge before the age of 24, mostly between 12 and 25 years, and a focus on young people is essential for early intervention research, according to Professor McGorry.
The clinical picture of mental illness in young people is often complicated, with mixed symptom patterns, and frequent comorbid substance use.
‚€œOur aim is to identify as soon as possible young people who are developing emerging mental health problems and potentially serious mental disorders such as psychoses, but also a full range of potentially serious mental disorders and substance use problems in young people,‚€Ě Professor McGorry said.
‚€œEarly diagnosis is a much more cost-effective way to treat people.
‚€œThat‚€™s well established in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and anywhere else.
‚€œIt‚€™s been a difficult struggle to get that accepted in psychiatry, but now there‚€™s increasing evidence ‚€“ particularly for psychotic disorders, but also for other kinds of potentially severe mental illnesses ‚€“ that the same principle applies.‚€Ě
There are a lot of theories about what contributes to onset of psychiatric disorder and psychosis in particular, Professor McGorry explains. The genetic risk was the best-established, but stressful life events could also be contributing factors.
More knowledge about how disorders emerged and what actually brought them on was needed.
‚€œThere are theories about abnormal brain development in adolescence and early adult life, some subtle abnormalities with that process, but it‚€™s difficult to be any more specific than that at this stage,‚€Ě Professor McGorry said.
‚€œSo the best we can do actually is this whole idea of early detection and early intervention so that we don‚€™t wait for someone to be in extremis before we actually help the young person.
‚€œPreventing in a primary sense is still beyond us, but early intervention is not beyond us.‚€Ě
From 1987 to 1993 Professor McGorry was an Associate Investigator on the NHMRC-funded Schizophrenia Research Unit at Royal Park Hospital and is the founding and current Executive Director of ORYGEN Youth Health and ORYGEN Research Centre.
Professor McGorry has been successful in gaining numerous national and international grants from a variety of sources over many years and is currently the Chief Investigator on an NHMRC Program Grant and a Centre of Clinical Excellence Grant. He has published over 300 journal articles, chapters and books and has presented at many national and international conferences. As well as his contributions to the field of early psychosis, Professor McGorry has interests in the homeless, refugees and torture survivors, youth suicide, youth substance use and the treatment of emerging personality disorder.
He is currently the Chair of the Executive Committee for the National Youth Mental Health Foundation (headspace), the Treasurer of the International Early Psychosis Association and Editor-in-chief of Early Intervention in Psychiatry journal. He is also a member of the International Society for the Psychological Treatment of Schizophrenia and Related Psychoses, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the International Association for Cognitive Psychotherapy, the Constitution Committee of the World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry, the Organising Committee of the Section on Schizophrenia of the World Psychiatric Association, and the Founding Board of Directors of the Schizophrenia International Research Society (SIRS). Professor McGorry has been awarded many prizes for his significant contributions to education, research and clinical psychiatry.
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