Functioning, symptom expression and risk along the psychosis continuum

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The psychosis continuum implies that subclinical psychotic experiences (PEs) can be differentiated from clinically relevant expressions since they are not accompanied by a ‘need for care’.

Using data from Wave 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC; N = 34 653), the current study examined variation in functioning, symptomology and aetiological risk across the psychosis phenotype [i.e. variation from (i) no PEs, ‘No PEs’ to (ii) non-distressing PEs, ‘PE-Experienced Only’ to (iii) distressing PEs, ‘PE-Impaired’ to (iv) clinically defined psychotic disorder, ‘Diagnosed’].

A graded trend was present such that, compared to those with no PEs, the Diagnosed group had the poorest functioning, followed by the PE-Impaired then PE-Experienced Only groups. In relation to symptom expression, the PE-Impaired group were more likely than the PE-Experienced Only and the Diagnosed groups to endorse most PEs. Predictors of group membership tended to vary quantitatively rather than qualitatively. Trauma, current mental health diagnoses (anxiety and depression) and drug use variables differentiated between all levels of the continuum, with the exception of the extreme end (PE-Impaired v. Diagnosed). Only a few variables distinguished groups at the upper end of the continuum: female sex, older age, unemployment, parental mental health hospitalisation and lower likelihood of having experienced physical assault.

The findings highlight the importance of continuum-based interpretations of the psychosis phenotype and afford valuable opportunities to consider if and how impairment, symptom expression and risk change along the continuum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7407-7417
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number15
Early online date24 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 24 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • continuum
  • psychosis
  • need for care
  • functioning
  • risk factors
  • schizotypal


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