Study Links Child Abuse, Neglect to Earlier Onset of Bipolar Disorder

THURSDAY, Feb. 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) — People with bipolar disorder who have a history of being abused or neglected as children may have more severe symptoms and a higher risk of suicide, new research suggests.

“Our findings have important implications for clinical practice, as they suggest that a history of childhood maltreatment could be used as an early indicator of high risk for poor outcomes among individuals with bipolar disorder,” said study author Jessica Agnew-Blais, a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London in England.

“This information could be valuable for identifying patients with bipolar disorder who may benefit from greater support and treatment,” she said in a college news release.

The researchers reviewed 30 studies. While they only found an association, rather than a cause-and-effect link, they said bipolar patients who suffered from neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children were more likely to have more severe manic, depressive and psychotic symptoms compared to those who weren’t abused.

People with bipolar disorder who were abused as children also had a higher risk of anxiety disorders and substance and alcohol abuse disorders, the research showed.

Those abused as children developed bipolar symptoms more than four years earlier, the study found. They also were nearly four times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder. And they were nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who weren’t mistreated during childhood, the researchers said.

The study adds to growing evidence on the long-lasting mental health effects of childhood abuse and neglect, the researchers said.

One in every 25 adults will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder at some time in their life. People with the condition experience significant swings in mood, energy and activity levels, the researchers said.

“These findings lend support to the notion that maltreatment can affect neurobiological processes associated with progression of the disorder,” Agnew-Blais said.

Further research is needed to determine how a history of childhood abuse or neglect may affect treatment of bipolar patients, study senior author Andrea Danese, a senior lecturer at King’s College London, said in the news release.

The study was published Feb. 9 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about bipolar disorder.