Life stress and the course of early-onset bipolar disorder.
Kim EY., Miklowitz DJ., Biuckians A., Mullen K.
BACKGROUND: Studies of adult bipolar patients and adolescents with major depression indicate that life stress and mood symptoms are temporally and causally related to one another. This study examined whether levels of life stress predict levels of mood symptoms among bipolar adolescents participating in a treatment development study of family-focused psychoeducation and pharmacotherapy. METHODS: Bipolar adolescents (n=38) who reported a period of acute mood symptoms within the prior 3 months were recruited for a 1-year study of life stress. Clinician-administered evaluations were completed with adolescents and parents at 3-month intervals for up to 12 months, using the UCLA Life Stress Interview and the K-SADS Mania and Depression Rating Scales. RESULTS: Chronic stress in family, romantic and peer relationships was associated with less improvement in mood symptoms over the study year. The frequency of severe, independent life events also predicted less improvement in mood symptoms. Higher levels of chronic stress in family and romantic relationships, and higher severity of independent events, were more strongly associated with mood symptoms among older adolescents. Results were independent of adolescents' psychosocial treatment regimens. LIMITATIONS: The majority of adolescents received family-focused psychoeducational treatment and all were being treated with psychotropic medication. The influence of life stress on mood symptoms may have been attenuated by intensive intervention. CONCLUSIONS: Stress is linked to changes in mood symptoms among bipolar adolescents, although correlations between life events and symptoms vary with age. Chronic stress in family, romantic, and peer relationships are important targets for psychosocial intervention.