Research group looks at youth mental health

By Claudia Wong, January 26 2016 —

University of Calgary researchers are working to identify psychosis predictors for high risk youth.

Psychosis is a medical condition that includes a disruption in brain functioning. Symptoms include confused thought, increased suspiciousness, grandiosity, impulsivity and disorganized communication.

Georgia Carstensen and Catherine Marshall are research coordinators focusing on youth at risk for mental illness at the U of C Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education.

“Disorganized communication is something that a person might not notice about themselves,” Carstensen said. “But their parents, friends or teachers might notice that their thoughts trail off or they have trouble expressing what they want to say.”

While most people rarely experience the symptoms described above, this happens frequently to people who are at Clinical High Risk (CHR) and can disrupt several social functionings.

“If someone is at CHR, they may be having quite significant symptoms that are very distressing, but they still question the experiences they are having. They haven’t had that loss of contact with reality,” Carstensen said. “If someone is having a psychotic episode, they may not have that doubt anymore.”

Student mental-health issues have been a recent focus for both  the university, which is in the middle of rolling out a new mental-health policy, and the Students’ Union.

“Young adults can also be prone to having these experiences because of stress associated with attending university and some of the pressures and adjustments that come along with that,” Marshall said.

Despite CHR being an indication of psychosis, most people who display symptoms don’t go on to develop a mental illness.

“A rough number is about one-third of people [at CHR] will go on to develop a first episode of psychosis and two-thirds will not,” Marshall said.

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