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First contact: Early intervention key in diagnosis and treatment of serious mental illness
Date:4/16/2012

CHICAGO Early symptoms of major mental illness can be subtle personality changes. Therefore, initial warning signs can often be missed, or even ignored due to conventional wisdom that suggests it's better to wait for true behavioral deterioration and prolonged patterns of abnormality before diagnosing and treating a mental illness. But experts warn that waiting until someone is so ill that the psychological sickness is unmistakable can be detrimental and can lead to long-term health concerns. In an effort to end the waiting game, Northwestern Medicine behavioral health experts from the Stone Institute of Psychiatry at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have launched First Contact, a program aimed at preventing the onset of long-term disability due to severe mental illness by increasing awareness of signs and symptoms and encouraging people to seek help earlier.

"Oftentimes, waiting is tragic," says Will Cronenwett, MD, a psychiatrist at Northwestern Memorial and instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "The first time subtle changes emerge is the best time to get an evaluation. By the time someone is so ill that it's resulted in their first hospitalization, they've already started to fall away from the trajectory that their life would have taken."

Cronenwett notes these subtle changes include odd thoughts, changes in mood, behavior or personality. Depression and isolation can be a sign, as well as strange experiences like hearing things that other people can't hear. "What really makes these things clinically significant is if the patient, family, or school thinks the young person's level of functioning is changing," said Cronenwett. "If grades drop, or the person misses days at work or work performance changes, or if he or she gives up friends, or stops relating well to family members, these are all serious signs."

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Contact: Colleen Sheehan
csheehan@nmh.org
312-926-7769
Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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