New online tool for identifying emerging mental health problems in young people

Published: 12 June 2018

For the first time, researchers have developed an online tool to help identify young people with emerging signs of mental health problems, such as psychosis.

For the first time, researchers have developed an online tool to help identify young people with emerging signs of mental health problems, such as psychosis.


Nearly one third of the participants using the screening tool, which was created by researchers at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, were found to be at risk for developing psychosis.

The findings, published today in Schizophrenia Bulletin, demonstrate that a web-based screening process could be an important strategy for early intervention and diagnosis of mental health problems in young people.

The online tool is part of the MRC-funded Youth Mental Health Risk and Resilience Study (YouR Study), which was set up to help identify neurobiological mechanisms and predictors of psychosis risk.

Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them, and might involve hallucinations or delusions. Psychosis can be caused by schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression.

Psychosis affects 1-2% of people. Identifying young people who are at high-risk for the development of psychosis and severe mental health disorders is an important objective of current preventive mental health efforts.

Currently, psychosis detection is limited by the fact that high-risk criteria is only established through interviews by trained personnel, in patients who are already within the health care system.

For the study, researchers asked participants to the website to answer an initial 25-item questionnaire screening for the assessment of basic symptoms. Participants who met a set of inclusion criteria were then invited through email to participate in a face-to-face clinical assessment to determine psychosis risk.

Of the initial 2,279 participants, 1,787 were invited for a clinical interview and 356 interviews were then conducted (a response rate of nearly 20%).

Using the Comprehensive Assessment of At-Risk Mental State (CAARMS) and the Schizophrenia Proneness Interview, the researchers identified 101 as being at high risk for psychosis and eight were identified as meeting the criteria for a first-episode of psychosis.

Professor Peter Uhlhaas from UofG’s Centre of Cognitive Neuroimaging, said, “Our findings show that e-health applications are an important approach in the intervention and diagnosis of psychotic disorders, and it’s important to develop new, modern ways of identifying young people at risk.

“Our tool could help circumvent clinical entry points and help spot the potential signs of psychosis and related mental disorders sooner rather than later; and, crucially, help identify those who would benefit from more detailed psychiatric assessments.”

Participants to the website were invited through e-mail invitations, flyers, advertisements, and GP letters to the general population and mental health services.

The study, ‘Using Online Screening in the General Population to Detect Participants at Clinical High-Risk for Psychosis’ is published in Schizophrenia Bulletin. The work was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC).

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First published: 12 June 2018

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