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Rate of Bipolar Symptoms Among Teens Approaches That of Adults

Science Update

The rate of bipolar symptoms among U.S. teens is nearly as high as the rate found among adults, according to NIMH-funded research published online ahead of print on May 7, 2012, in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Background

teen girl talking to therapist

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Nationally representative data indicate that about 3.9 percent of adults meet criteria for bipolar disorder in their lifetime, and 2.6 percent meet criteria in a given year.1 However, limited data exist on the rates of bipolar disorder among adolescents, despite strong evidence indicating that bipolar disorder tends to emerge in adolescence or early adulthood.

Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D., of NIMH, and colleagues analyzed data from the NIMH-funded National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), a nationally representative, face-to-face survey of more than 10,000 teens ages 13 to 18. Using criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), the researchers assessed teens for the hallmark symptoms of bipolar disorder—mania and depression. They also examined the rates of teens who showed evidence of mania alone.

Results of the Study

The researchers found that 2.5 percent of youth met criteria for bipolar disorder in their lifetime, and 2.2 percent met criteria within a given year. About 1.7 percent reported having mania alone within their lifetime, and 1.3 percent reporting having mania alone within a given year. Rates increased with age—about 2 percent of younger teens reported bipolar disorder symptoms, whereas 3.1 percent of older teens did.

Significance

The findings reveal that the prevalence of bipolar disorder in adolescents approaches that of adults, underscoring the widely held belief that the disorder first appears in youth. In addition, the presence of mania alone suggests that mania without depression should receive greater attention when evaluating mood disorders in teens, especially since it may precede or be associated with behavioral problems such as substance use disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the researchers.

What’s Next

The researchers highlighted the need to follow up with these youth, to see if they continue to manifest bipolar symptoms as they age. More research is needed on the overlap of mania with other emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as the core features and risk factors for the development of mania in adolescents.

Citation

 1 Merikangas K, Cui L, Kattan G, Carlson G, Youngstrom E, Angst J. Mania with and without depression in a community sample of U.S. adolescents. Archives of General Psychiatry. Online ahead of print May 7, 2012.