Early care for psychosis catches on, raises questions

For years, Lisa Halpern says she was able to explain away and conceal the early warning signs of psychosis. When she hid in her college dorm room, with towels stuffed under the door and black paper over the peephole, she was just “antisocial.” Later, when she was a Harvard graduate student who became unable to read, shower or leave her apartment, she thought she might have a brain tumor.

She didn’t tell the neurologist who scanned her brain – and found no tumor – that she was also hearing voices.

Halpern says it took at least six years to get the right diagnosis: schizophrenia. While her story is ultimately hopeful — at age 40, she is doing well with the help of her family, her therapist and medication — it does illustrate a problem: The early stages of psychosis often go unnoticed, are mistreated or not treated at all.

But that may be changing, even as experts debate exactly who needs help and what kind of help to provide.

“There is now a national movement to think about intervening earlier to get better outcomes,” says Kenneth Duckworth, a Harvard University psychiatrist and medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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