March 26, 2019

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By Dr. Lucia Valmaggia

As Dr Lucia Valmaggia takes over as President of IEPA, she shares her perspectives on early intervention in mental health as we plot our journey to Brazil in 2020.


It was a great honour for me to start as President of IEPA, Early Intervention in Mental Health this January. From 2017, I had the privilege to learn the ropes from Peter Jones, our past president. I am grateful to Peter for the opportunity to learn from him during the last two years. I am looking forward to continuing working with him alongside Eoin Killackey, our new President-Elect, and all the other members of the Board.

The start of the year has been an industrious one. We are currently working on a new communication strategy for the organisation which we hope to roll out in the coming months. The new communication strategy will enable us to translate the lessons we have learned in early intervention for psychosis to early intervention models for other areas of mental ill-health.

An evidence-based reform of early intervention in psychosis has been at the core of the IEPA from the very beginning. Since the 1990s, early intervention services for people with psychosis have grown significantly around the world. We started to better understand the mechanisms that trigger the onset and maintenance of psychosis. By meaningfully involving young people and their families into research and service reform, we continue to gain new insights into factors for recovery. Importantly, in a time of austerity and financial turmoil, we have also demonstrated that intervening early is not only cost-effective but can lead to long-term costs-savings.

Moving forward, IEPA is in a unique position to help transform youth mental health and implement preventative and personalised early intervention for all areas of mental ill-health. While diagnoses can be a useful tool in mental health practice, they often fail at recognising the individual and contextual aspects in a young person’s life. A transdiagnostic approach better reflects clinical reality and recognises the experiences of young people and their families.

Digital technologies can help improve access to new interventions and are vital to developing effective treatments for “digitally native” young people. While the number of studies using digital technology in mental health has grown exponentially in recent years, the translation of this research into effective clinical practice has been limited. We need to investigate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of these types of technologies to deliver preventative and participatory interventions that are evidence-based, efficient and personalised.

Another frontier to conquer for IEPA is disseminating service reform in low- and middle-income countries. These countries have the unique opportunity to start their service reform using a transdiagnostic model from the very beginning. They will have to be resourceful to develop interventions that are affordable and reflect their cultural context and values.

All these ambitions are reflected in the title of the next conference, “New Frontiers in Early Intervention”, which will be hosted by Rodrigo Bressan and his colleagues in Brazil in 2020.  We have already started working to design a fantastic conference and in the coming months, we will send regular updates. Looking forward to hearing all the exciting developments in 2019 and seeing you all in Brazil.