The rise of the early intervention paradigm in psychotic disorders represents a maturing of the therapeutic approach in psychiatry, as it embraces practical preventive strategies which are firmly established in mainstream health care. Early intervention means better access and systematic early delivery of existing and incremental improvements in knowledge rather than necessarily requiring dramatic and elusive breakthroughs. A clinical staging model has proven useful and may have wider utility in psychiatry. The earliest clinical stages of psychotic disorder are non-specific and multidimensional and overlap phenotypically with the initial stages of other disorders. This implies that treatment should proceed in a stepwise fashion depending upon safety, response and progression. Withholding treatment until severe and less reversible symptomatic and functional impairment have become entrenched represents a failure of care. While early intervention in psychosis has developed strongly in recent years, many countries have made no progress at all, and others have achieved only sparse coverage. The reform process has been substantially evidence-based, arguably more so than other system reforms in mental health. However, while evidence is necessary, it is insufficient. It is also a by-product as well as a catalyst of reform. In early psychosis, we have also seen the evidence-based paradigm misused to frustrate overdue reform. Mental disorders are the chronic diseases of the young, with their onset and maximum impact in late adolescence and early adult life. A broader focus for early intervention would solve many of the second order issues raised by the early psychosis reform process, such as diagnostic uncertainty despite a clear-cut need for care, stigma and engagement, and should be more effective in mobilizing community support. Early intervention represents a vital and challenging project for early adopters in global psychiatry to consider.