Commenced in 2016, the STEP study (Staged Treatment in Early Psychosis) is one of Orygen’s biggest research projects. The study is supported by a large team of clinicians and researchers, who work across five sites in Melbourne including headspace centres in Sunshine, Werribee, Glenroy and Craigieburn as well as the Orygen Youth Health PACE (Personal Assessment and Crisis Evaluation) clinic.
The purpose of the STEP study is to investigate the most effective way of treating young people who may be at risk of developing a psychotic disorder. Symptoms can vary for different individuals, but for some young people these may include feeling low in mood, feeling paranoid or seeing things or hearing voices they know aren’t there. Although we know that providing treatment for this group of young people is effective in improving functioning and reducing the risk of developing a psychotic disorder, we do not yet know what the most effective type of treatment is or the best sequence of treatments.
The study aims to test the effect of a sequential treatment approach for young people at risk of developing a psychotic disorder. This means providing help-seeking young people with a sequence of three treatments, depending on whether the young people has a good response to each stage of treatment. The study will measure whether or not the treatment sequence was effective by looking at whether the treatments improved functioning levels and psychiatric symptoms, whether or not they prevent or delay some young people transitioning to psychosis, or if they help diminish some young people’s low-grade psychotic symptoms.
The results of this study will assist with providing the best possible care in the future for young people who may be at risk of developing a psychotic disorder. It may also help us understand why some people’s symptoms and functioning get worse over time and why other people’s improve.
In addition to determining which young people benefit from what type or level of intervention, the study will also collect data on key biomarkers and other mechanisms potentially underpinning risk, which may ultimately be used to adapt and personalise treatment.
The study is funded by the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
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