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This paper examined the hypothesis that males with first-episode psychosis (FEP) experience lower pre-morbid adjustment, greater social disability and more self-perceived needs at illness onset than females (by controlling for duration of untreated psychosis, diagnosis, age and symptoms at onset). Results disconfirming this hypothesis were thought to suggest the potentially mediating role of social context in determining the impact of symptoms and disability on the everyday lives of male patients in the early phase of psychosis.
A large epidemiologically representative cohort of FEP patients (n=517) was assessed within the Psychosis Incident Cohort Outcome Study (PICOS) framework – a multi-site research project examining incident cases of psychosis in Italy's Veneto region.
Despite poorer pre-morbid functioning and higher social disability at illness onset, males reported fewer unmet needs in the functioning domain than females did. An analysis of help provided by informal caregivers showed that males received more help from their families than females did. This finding led us to disconfirm the second part of the hypothesis and suggest that the impact of poorer social performance and unmet needs on everyday life observed in male patients might be hampered by higher tolerance and more support within the family context.
These findings shed new light on rarely investigated sociocultural and contextual factors that may account for the observed discrepancy between social disability and needs for care in FEP patients. They also point to a need for further research on gender differences, with the ultimate aim of delivering gender-sensitive effective mental health care.
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