Childhood Adversity Linked to Bipolar Disorder

A new U.K. review of more than 30 years of research on bipolar disorder found that people with the condition are more than twice as likely to have suffered emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as children than the general population.

University of Manchester researchers identified 19 studies from hundreds published between 1980 and 2014 which gathered data from millions of patient records, interviews, and assessments.

By applying rigorous statistical analysis to the data, the researchers discovered a 2.63 increase in likelihood that people with bipolar disorder suffered adverse childhood trauma, such as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

Dr. Filippo Varese, one of the study authors, said, “Much research into bipolar has focused on biogenetics, but following previous work on schizophrenia, we felt that a similar effect could be found in bipolar.

The link between experiencing a troubled childhood and subsequently being diagnosed with this serious condition is extremely strong.”

The study appears in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme depressive and manic states which impair quality of life and increase suicide risk.

Professionals say better understanding of risk factors that can be used to improve detection and treatment of the disorder, is essential.

The authors defined childhood adversity as experiencing neglect, abuse, bullying, or the loss of a parent before the age of 19. There was a particularly strong link between emotional abuse with this four times more likely to have happened to people with bipolar. However, the loss of a parent did not raise the risk significantly.

This the first time a meta-analysis has been applied to bipolar disorder and childhood adversity and, as a result, the findings represent a much larger pool of data than has been previously available.

Experts say the findings have implications for those providing treatment, as professionals can factor in these childhood experiences when developing personalized therapy plans.

Lead author Dr. Jasper Palmier-Claus added, “Handled sensitively, inquiries about a person’s childhood experiences can make a significant difference to how treatment proceeds and the types of support that can be put into place.”

Source: University of Manchester
Photo: Child suffering from abuse photo by shutterstock.