By Sean O’Malley
It is one of the most important and heart-breaking questions in all of health care: why do some young people with mental health challenges go on to develop life-threatening psychosis while others do not? We know from previous research that 75 per cent of youths who go on to develop psychosis had sought mental health treatment in the previous three years. But only 5 per cent of them showed any overt symptoms of psychosis before it emerged. Are there signs and symptoms that can be detected early enough, if we only knew what they were, that would make possible targeted treatments that might prevent psychosis from emerging?
Those are some of the fundamental questions that CAMH’s Toronto Adolescent & Youth (TAY) Cohort Study, which will follow 3,000 youth between the ages of 11 and 24 who have sought mental health treatment at CAMH, is trying to answer. The study will follow these young patients over a five-year period in unprecedented detail, tracking not just their clinical care inside and outside of CAMH, but also their genetics, brain circuitry and key aspects of brain functioning like memory and cognition.
“The brain changes rapidly as it is developing in adolescence and there are specific periods of time during spurts of growth and circuit formation when, if the brain is not developing normally, symptoms of mental illness can emerge,” says principle Investigator Dr. Aristotle Voineskos, Vice President, Research at CAMH and Director of the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute. “It’s not going to be possible to prevent psychosis in everyone, but if we can identify who the kids at higher risk are, we can design a system for them that is much more monitoring-intensive that may be able to prevent psychosis from emerging in some patients.”