Understanding Early Psychosis in Youth

Seventy-five percent of adult mental illnesses emerge by age 24, with the majority appearing between ages 15 and 24. Given increasing evidence for the benefits of early intervention, identifying predictors and indicators of emerging mental illness is a high public health priority. In 2018, The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) awarded an Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant to new Faculty Scientist Kristen Woodberry, MSW, PhD to collect dynamic data in adolescents and young adults at risk for or in the early stages of severe mental illness. The project aims to better understand the interaction of emerging symptoms and social context over time.

Research Team (L to R): Kate Powers, Research Assistant, Dr. Woodberry, & Anna Cloutier, Research Nurse Coordinator

Using a smartphone app, the Daily Life Study is collecting 6 mood and symptom reports a day for 21 days in 60 Boston and Portland area youth ages 15-25.  By comparing the daily reports of those with and without psychotic symptoms, Dr. Woodberry hopes to identify whether youth with psychotic symptoms experience greater mood variability than their non-psychotic peers, and whether mood variability predicts psychotic symptoms or thoughts of self-harm. This project is a preliminary step in a line of research examining the interaction of mood and psychosis and identifying patterns or sequences that can predict critical events such as suicide attempts during the early course of major mental illness. Early course symptom dynamics are also expected to inform our understanding of illness progression and help develop novel interventions to interrupt pathological sequences and improve functional outcomes.

This project is one arm of a broader effort to build on Maine Medical Center’s leadership role in Early Intervention in Psychosis, initiated through the nationally-recognized Portland Identification and Early Referral (PIER) Program, pioneered by Dr. William McFarland. Dr Woodberry is working closely with PIER Clinical Director, Sarah Lynch, Drs. Doug Robbins and Susan Santangelo, and Maine Health leadership to build a regional Center of Excellence focused on early psychosis research, training, and coordinated specialty care.

Dr. Woodberry’s Research and Profile:  Read More