Self-reported psychotic-like experiences are a poor estimate of clinician-rated attenuated and frank delusions and hallucinations

Frauke Schultze-Lutter, Fritz Renner, Julia Paruch, Dominika Julkowski, Joachim Klosterkötter, Stephan Ruhrmann
Psychopathology 2014, 47 (3): 194-201

BACKGROUND: One reason for the decision to delay the introduction of an Attenuated Psychosis Syndrome in the main text of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was the concern that attenuated psychotic symptoms (APS) might in fact be common features in adolescents and young adults from the general population of no psychopathological significance in themselves. This concern was based on reports of high prevalence rates of psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) in the general population and the assumption that PLEs are a good estimate of APS. Although the criterion validity of self-reported PLEs had already been studied with respect to clinician-rated psychotic symptoms and found insufficient, it had been argued that PLEs might in fact be more comparable with mild, subclinical expressions of psychotic symptoms and, therefore, with APS. The present paper is the first to specifically study this assumption.

SAMPLING AND METHODS: The sample consisted of 123 persons seeking help at a service for the early detection of psychosis, of whom 54 had an at-risk mental state or psychosis, 55 had a nonpsychotic mental disorder and 14 had no full-blown mental disorder. PLEs were assessed with the Peters Delusion Inventory and the revised Launay-Slade Hallucination Scale, and psychotic symptoms and APS were assessed with the Structured Interview for Prodromal Syndromes.

RESULTS: At a level of agreement between the presence of any PLE (in 98.4% of patients) and any APS (in 40.7%) just exceeding chance (κ = 0.022), the criterion validity of PLEs for APS was insufficient. Even if additional qualifiers (high agreement or distress, preoccupation and conviction) were considered, PLEs (in 52.8%) still tended to significantly overestimate APS, and agreement was only fair (κ = 0.340). Furthermore, the group effect on PLE prevalence was, at most, moderate (Cramer's V ≤ 0.382).

CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of APS cannot be deduced from studies of PLEs. Thus, the high population prevalence rate of PLEs does not allow the conclusion that APS are common features of no pathological significance and would lack clinical validity as an Attenuated Psychosis Syndrome in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. Rather, the population prevalence rate of APS has to be assumed to be largely unknown at present but is likely lower than indicated by epidemiological studies of PLEs. Therefore, dedicated studies are warranted, in which APS are assessed in a way that equates to their clinical evaluation.

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