The number of teens who have experienced mania— a hallmark of bipolar disorder, characterized by excessive energy, a lack of sleep and sometimes risky behaviors – is close to the number of adults estimated to have the disorder, suggesting that in many cases, the illness begins during adolescence, according to a new study.
“The traditional wisdom has been that mania begins in your 20s and 30s,” said Kathleen Ries Merikangas, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and chief of the genetic epidemiology branch at the National Institute of Mental Health. “I think the important thing is for people to recognize that mania does occur in adolescents.”
Typically, bipolar disorder includes alternating cycles of mania and depression, although one type of bipolar diagnosis involves mania alone.
Merikangas said that previous smaller studies have estimated how common mania is among children, but she and her team wanted to better determine the national rate of bipolar disorder in youth.
For the study, over 10,000 teenagers were interviewed extensively regarding their moods and behavior. The researchers found that 2.5 percent met the criteria for having had mania and depression, and 2.2 percent of teens had experienced it within the last 12 months.
Furthermore, during the year previous to the survey, 1.3 percent of the teens had mania alone and 5.7 percent had experienced depression.
“I think that our data suggest that bipolar disorder is more common in adolescents than previous studies had shown,” said Merikangas.
Perhaps this is because the interview questions were somewhat broader than what earlier surveys had asked, she said. But all teens considered to have a mood disorder in her study met the criteria for diagnosis in the DSM-IV, the standard diagnostic manual for psychiatry.
Merikangas and her colleagues point out that the rates of mood disorders found among teens in this study is close to what is seen in adults. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 2.6 percent of adults have experienced bipolar disorder in the last 12 months.
In the study, mood disorders appeared more frequently with age. For example, 1.4 percent of 13 and 14 year olds met the criteria for mania whereas nearly twice as many 17 and 18 year olds had the disorder.
Approximately one-fifth of the teens with mania and depression had attempted suicide, and over half also had an anxiety or behavior disorder. Only about half of kids with mania and depression had been treated for the disorder.
“The take home message is that adolescence is when we really see bipolar disorder begin, so we should shift our focus of prevention and intervention earlier in the lifespan,” Merikangas said.
The study is published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Source: Archives of General Psychiatry