Inclusion of the attenuated psychosis syndrome in Section III of DSM-5—Chance or Defeat?
The heated, often assuming scientific and public debate of the past three years over the introduction of an attenuated psychosis syndrome in DSM-5 has recently come to a conclusion for the time being, with the DSM committee deciding not to include it in the main section but rather the appendix, i.e., Section III. With this, attenuated psychotic symptoms (APS), one of the five main single criteria developed and examined within the context of preventive efforts to psychosis (Fusar-Poli et al., 2012), will continue to be the subject of further research for some time. However, in comparison to other at-risk criteria such as the remaining two ultra-high-risk criteria (Yung and McGorry, 1996) or the basic symptoms criteria (Schultze-Lutter et al., 2007), it will be considered not mainly as a [...continued] predictor or risk syndrome of psychosis, but as a syndrome or diagnostic class in its own right.
Public perception of the departure from the psychosis risk syndrome
One of the reasons for the negative decision on including the attenuated psychosis syndrome in the main text right now was the frequent, persistent (mis)perception of it as a risk syndrome and, consequently, the critique of the low transition risks to psychosis (e.g., see a Nature News article). Indeed, the first proposal version had intended the introduction of a prognostic category, a "Risk Syndrome for First Psychosis" (Woods et al., 2009). This proposal was based on results of the first 15 years of early detection of psychosis research, which found transition risks that, even at their lowest estimates, are still several 100-fold higher than the risk in the general population (Fusar-Poli et al., 2012). The probabilistic nature of these criteria, however, yielded subsamples of persons classified as "at-risk," yet who did not develop psychosis. The proportions varied across different operationalized criteria (Schultze-Lutter et al., in press), sampling procedures, centers, and lengths of observation period (Fusar-Poli et al., 2012). Furthermore, a considerable proportion showed (at least transient) remissions of at-risk symptoms (Addington et al., 2011), not least as a result of support and treatment. While these results had already provoked a debate about the ethical and medical justification of preventive measures (International Early Psychosis Association Writing Group, 2005; Klosterkötter and Schultze-Lutter, 2010; Schimmelmann et al., 2012, in press; Schultze-Lutter et al., 2008; Ruhrmann et al., 2010a), it was further fueled by the first DSM-5 proposal of a risk syndrome.
Another problem related to this first proposal that soon became obvious was of a methodological nature: as the structure of DSM—different from several somatic areas in the ICD-10—does not include prognostic entities, a risk syndrome would have also caused systematic difficulties such as: 1) likelihood of treating persons not in need of treatment; 2) inability to develop and evaluate treatment strategies related to a definite and not only probable outcome; 3) focus on not a current but a future mental state; 4) current and future dependence on the concepts of psychoses; 5) inability of cross-sectional falsification of psychopathological significance; and 6) limited access to current health care generally not meant for risk syndromes but rather for current disorders (Ruhrmann et al., 2010b). However, regardless of the prognostic aspects, a large number of studies ranging from psychosocial functioning and quality of life to neurobiology (Ruhrmann et al., 2010b; Fusar-Poli et al., in press) demonstrated that help-seeking patients fulfilling at-risk criteria, mainly APS, also fulfilled general DSM criteria of a mental disorder in terms of a “clinically significant behavioral and psychological syndrome or pattern … that is associated with present distress … or disability … or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom” (DSM-IV-TR, p. xxi). Thus, following a debate at the 2010 SIRS Conference organized by B. Cornblatt and S. Ruhrmann, a conceptual change from a "Risk Syndrome for First Psychosis" to an “Attenuated Psychosis Syndrome” (in terms of a diagnostic class in its own right) was made (Carpenter and van Os, 2011; Carpenter, 2011).
Like ICD-10’s Schizotypal Disorder—a diagnostic class in itself
A similar diagnostic class, the Schizotypal Disorder (F21) including all but grandiose APS, has long been part of the psychosis section (F2) of the ICD-10 (Ruhrmann et al., 2010a). Such a diagnostic category has so far been missing in DSM, where APS is only considered as clinical features and part of the schizotypal personality disorder if formed by early adulthood, persists throughout life, and affects every aspect of day-to-day behavior. Thus, according to DSM, the many patients who suffer from and report APS according to at-risk criteria, i.e., with a more or less recent onset and a potentially non-continuous but only repeated occurrence (Schultze-Lutter et al., in press), are currently not being considered ill and not entitled to mental health care. An introduction of the attenuated psychosis syndrome in DSM-5 would have closed a gap between ICD and DSM. Unfortunately, however, the communication and visibility of this major conceptual change were not successful—and the debate continued to mainly circle around the same issues as with the risk syndrome: 1) allegedly low short-term transition risks; 2) emergence of spontaneous remissions and, as a consequence, unnecessary interventions, particularly with antipsychotic drugs (recommended only as the last resort when, despite other benign treatments, symptoms clearly progress towards frank psychotic symptoms [International Early Psychosis Writing Group, 2005]); 3) potential early stigmatization; and 4) overdiagnosis, based on studies of psychotic-like experiences that are frequently mistaken as measures of APS in the general population (Schultze-Lutter et al., 2011). However, none of these are reported to have occurred with the ICD-10’s Schizotypal Disorder.
Consequences of the conceptual shift from prevention to treatment
The implications of a shift from prevention to treatment—targeting present complaints and not only (uncertain) future outcomes—were particularly not generally seized. Furthermore, concerns focused on the noncritical use of antipsychotics. Yet, as in major depression—another mental disorder with impairing symptoms, spontaneous remissions, and an uncertain future course, but a much better established consensus about indication for treatment—medication is only one option and its prescription has to be tailored to the patient's needs. Consequently, the following advantages of the revised proposal as a distinct diagnostic entity were generally overlooked (Ruhrmann et al., 2010b):
- Grants access to health care.
- Allows for the development and provision of targeted healthcare for a clinically existing population of patients that is neglected by the current diagnostic systems.
- Should markedly decrease the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP), an important modifier of outcome.
- Enables translation of dimensional concepts via staging into clinical usability.
- Provides operationalized criteria instead of idiosyncratic diagnosis ("praecox feeling").
- Enables the development of guidelines to avoid under- as well as overtreatment.
- Could still be used as a first step to an early detection and intervention by developing at-risk criteria that identify those among the patients with an attenuated psychosis syndrome that are truly at risk for psychosis.
- Effective treatment should reduce stigma by
- avoidance/remission of peculiar, stigmatizing behavior (individual level) (Gaebel et al., 2006; Penn et al., 2000);
- implementing the recognition of a manageable state in the general public’s awareness (society level) (World Health Organization, 2004).
However, despite these impressive advantages, some concerns were also voiced with respect to the proposed diagnosis, such as the unclear prevalence and psychopathological significance in the general population (Schimmelmann et al., 2011), developmental aspects (Schimmelmann et al., in press), and, in light of the different operationalized APS criteria (Schultze-Lutter et al., in press), uncertainty about the most reliable and valid definition. Yet it was not such concerns that finally guided the decision to include attenuated psychosis syndrome not in the main text of DSM-5 but in its appendix, but rather the inconclusive results of an insufficient reliability study in just two centers and on just seven subjects.
So, while in the aftermath of the past three years debates over this decision are continuing, hopefully the decision will soon be regarded as a chance to better communicate the current proposal, overcome its outdated perception as a risk syndrome, and to examine open questions. Furthermore, the inclusion of an attenuated psychosis syndrome in DSM-5—even if only in Section III—will hopefully encourage more research in this area, including a refinement of criteria (Ruhrmann et al., 2010a; Ruhrmann et al., 2010b; Klosterkötter et al., 2011) and increased attention to these patients (in need of help for current symptoms) and their families.
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