The aim of this study was to identify underlying dimensions of psychopathology in a cohort of patients with functional psychosis of recent onset, and to examine their prognostic value. Factor analysis of the psychopathological features of 166 consecutively admitted patients with functional psychosis of recent onset revealed seven psychopathological dimensions, which explained 63% of the variance. Five of these seven syndromes bore differential associations with subsequent treatment and illness course, independent of: (i) associations with DSM-III-R diagnosis; (ii) associations with other prognostic factors; and (iii) associations with the baseline values of outcome variables. The most striking associations were shown for an early and insidious onset syndrome with affective flattening, which predicted a more disabled course of illness on three of four outcome dimensions, and which was more common in males and unmarried individuals. A second syndrome, characterized by bizarre behaviour, inappropriate affect, catatonia, and poor rapport showed similar, slightly less striking, associations with illness course, as well as with poor pre-morbid social functioning. A third syndrome, characterized by positive psychotic symptoms was to a lesser degree associated with poorer outcome, whereas a fourth syndrome distinguished by manic symptomatology predicted a more benign illness course. A fifth syndrome identified by lack of insight predicted more time in hospital and admission under a section of the Mental Health Act during the follow-up period.
A further finding was that dimensional representations of psychopathological features were considerably more useful than categorical representations (DSM-III-R and ICD-10) as predictors of illness course and treatment decisions.