Hunter researchers are investigating why young people transition from an ‘at-risk mental state’ to a first episode of psychosis.
The Minds in Transition (MinT) study, a five-year project led by Professor Ulrich Schall** from the University of Newcastle, aims to better understand changes in the brains of young people when they are developing a severe mental illness.
The researchers are recruiting young people aged 12 to 25 who have recently experienced unusual thoughts, such as becoming suspicious of other people’s intentions, or an unexplained drop in their normal level of function at school, work or socially.
“An at risk mental state is not a clinical diagnosis but reflects a combination of factors such as family history of mental illness or a drop in well-being and every day functioning,” Professor Schall said.
“The at risk concept is similar to other medical conditions like stroke or diabetes for which risk factors such as family history, obesity and smoking have been identified.
“We already know that a minority will develop some form of psychotic illness. Comparing those who develop a psychotic illness with the majority who do not is the primary goal of our study.”
Volunteers will undergo a variety of assessments, including MRI scans, a blood test to detect changes in the activity of genes known to be associated with mental illness, EEG recordings to detect early signs of sound processing deficits, as well as a number of other clinical and psychological tests.
“The results will inform therapists about the early signs of emerging illness, how these signs develop further into full-blown symptoms and what factors promote or prevent a transition from ‘at-risk mental state’ to a mental illness,” Professor Schall said.
The MinT project is recruiting young people aged 12 to 25 years through www.mint.org.au for assessments at clinical centres at the University of Newcastle (Newcastle and Orange) and the University of New South Wales (Sydney).
In addition, parents, carers, counsellors, psychologists, GPs or other people who believe a young person fits this criterion can also make contact with researchers via the MinT website.
** Professor Schall works in collaboration with the HMRI Brain and Mental Health Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Local Health Network and the community.
The MinT project is funded by the National Health & Medical Research Council and supported by the University of Newcastle, the University of New South Wales, the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), Schizophrenia Research Institute, and NSW Health. The MinT website was donated by Markus Dilectite (www.dilectite.com.au).