Improving real-life functioning is the main goal of the most advanced integrated treatment programs in people with schizophrenia. The Italian Network for Research on Psychoses previously explored, by using network analysis, the interplay among illness-related variables, personal resources, context-related factors and real-life functioning in a large sample of patients with schizophrenia. The same research network has now completed a 4-year follow-up of the original sample. In the present study, we used network analysis to test whether the pattern of relationships among all variables investigated at baseline was similar at follow-up. In addition, we compared the network structure of patients who were classified as recovered at follow-up versus those who did not recover. Six hundred eighteen subjects recruited at baseline could be assessed in the follow-up study. The network structure did not change significantly from baseline to follow-up, and the overall strength of the connections among variables increased slightly, but not significantly. Functional capacity and everyday life skills had a high betweenness and closeness in the network at follow-up, as they had at baseline, while psychopathological variables remained more peripheral. The network structure and connectivity of non-recovered patients were similar to those observed in the whole sample, but very different from those in recovered subjects, in which we found few connections only. These data strongly suggest that tightly coupled symptoms/dysfunctions tend to maintain each other's activation, contributing to poor outcome in schizophrenia. Early and integrated treatment plans, targeting variables with high centrality, might prevent the emergence of self-reinforcing networks of symptoms and dysfunctions in people with schizophrenia.
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