Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences

Special Article

Social networks, support and early psychosis: a systematic review

C. Gayer-Andersona1 c1 and C. Morgana1

a1 Section of Social Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, England

Background. There is strong evidence that those with a long-standing psychotic disorder have fewer social contacts and less social support than comparison groups. There is less research on the extent of social contacts and support prior to or at the onset of psychosis. In the light of recent evidence implicating a range of social experiences and contexts at the onset of psychosis, it is relevant to establish whether social networks and support diminished before or at the time of onset and whether the absence of such supports might contribute to risk, either directly or indirectly. We, therefore, conducted a systematic review of this literature to establish what is currently known about the relationship between social networks, support and early psychosis.

Methods. We identified all studies investigating social networks and support in first episode psychosis samples and in general population samples with measures of psychotic experiences or schizotype by conducting systematic searches of electronic databases using pre-defined search terms and criteria. Findings were synthesized using non-quantitative approaches.

Results. Thirty-eight papers were identified that met inclusion criteria. There was marked methodological heterogeneity, which limits the capacity to draw direct comparisons. Nonetheless, the existing literature suggests social networks (particularly close friends) and support diminished both among first episode samples and among non-clinical samples reporting psychotic experiences or with schizotype traits, compared with varying comparison groups. These differences may be more marked for men and for those from minority ethnic populations.

Conclusions. Tentatively, reduced social networks and support appear to pre-date onset of psychotic disorder. However, the substantial methodological heterogeneity among the existing studies makes comparisons difficult and suggests a need for more robust and comparable studies on networks, support and early psychosis.

(Received June 06 2012)

(Revised June 06 2012)

(Accepted June 09 2012)

(Online publication July 26 2012)

Key words

  • Onset;
  • psychosis;
  • social network;
  • social support