Doctors routinely assess a patient’s risk of heart attack, various cancers, and diabetes, often intervening to slow or stop disease before it strikes. But preventing psychiatric conditions, from anxiety to depression to schizophrenia, has received scant attention. But in recent years, brain specialists have refined their ability to anticipate who’s at highest risk of psychosis—a defining feature of schizophrenia—identifying subtle signs in children and more vivid precursors in late adolescence. And increasingly, researchers feel they’d be derelict not to pursue prevention. A handful of prevention studies are up and running, ranging from cognitive therapies to pregnancy supplements for the fetal brain to psychiatric drugs. Last month, a German pharmaceutical company enrolled the first volunteer into what is intended to be a 300-person, randomized clinical trial, testing an experimental drug to prevent psychosis in those at extremely high risk. It’s believed to be the first time a company has poured millions of dollars into an effort like this one.
A change of mind