Early physical and sexual abuse associated with an adverse course of bipolar illness

Gabriele S. Leverich, Susan L. McElroy, Trisha Suppes, Paul E. Keck, Kirk D. Denicoff, Willem A. Nolen, Lori L. Altshuler, A. John Rush, Ralph Kupka, Mark A. Frye, Karen A. Autio, Robert M. Post

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

325 Scopus citations


Background: There is growing awareness of the association between physical and sexual abuse and subsequent development of psychopathology, but little is known, however, about their relationship to the longitudinal course of bipolar disorder. Methods: We evaluated 631 outpatients with bipolar I or II disorder for general demographics, a history of physical or sexual abuse as a child or adolescent, course of illness variables, and prior suicide attempts, as well as SCID-derived Axis I and patient endorsed Axis II comorbidity. Results: Those who endorsed a history of child or adolescent physical or sexual abuse, compared with those who did not, had a history of an earlier onset of bipolar illness, an increased number of Axis I, II, and III comorbid disorders, including drug and alcohol abuse, faster cycling frequencies, a higher rate of suicide attempts, and more psychosocial stressors occurring before the first and most recent affective episode. The retrospectively reported associations of early abuse with a more severe course of illness were validated prospectively. Conclusions: Greater appreciation of the association of early traumatic experiences and an adverse course of bipolar illness should lead to preventive and early intervention approaches that may lessen the associated risk of a poor outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-297
Number of pages10
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2002


  • Bipolar
  • Comorbidity
  • Course of illness
  • Early abuse
  • Life-chart

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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