The results of a new National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study show that approximately 50 percent of adults who suffer from diagnosable anxiety disorders showed signs of a psychiatric illness by age 15. Researchers found that to some extent, the nature of the symptoms a subject had developed in childhood predicted the type of anxiety disorder he or she would develop in adulthood.
Researchers took a close look at the mental health histories of 9,632 adults, focusing on the period between ages 11 and 32. 232 of the subjects had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders in adulthood. Of this group, one-third had also shown signs of anxiety disorders during adolescence. The second most common childhood psychiatric illness for adult subjects with anxiety disorders was depression.
Researchers also discovered connections between certain adult and childhood psychiatric disorders. For example, adults with panic disorder did not have psychiatric symptoms in childhood, but adults suffering from other types of anxiety disorders did. Conduct disorders were present in the juvenile histories of adults with posttraumatic stress disorder, but not in the histories of adults with other anxiety disorders. Adults with phobias also had phobias as children, but they did not display signs of other anxiety disorders in childhood. Those who had delusional beliefs and hallucinations in childhood often grew up to develop obsessive-compulsive disorder as adults.
These findings indicate that examining a patient’s psychiatric history could aid in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of adult anxiety disorders, say the study’s authors. They also point to the importance of early diagnosis and prevention of anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders are a pervasive mental health problem. A study published in the June 2005 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, “Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R),” 28.8 percent of adults in the U.S. will eventually be diagnosed with one or more anxiety disorders during their lifetimes. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and social and other phobias.
The study’s results appear in the February 2007 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, under the title, “Juvenile Mental Health Histories of Adults with Anxiety Disorders.” The research was an international effort. NIMH-funded researchers Alice M. Gregory, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt, and Karestan Koenen, of Goldsmith’s College and King’s College London, Duke University, and Harvard University, worked together with Thalia C. Eley and Richie Poulton, of King’s College London and University of Otago (New Zealand).
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
Press release: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/press