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Childhood trauma in bipolar disorder

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Stuart Watson, Dr Peter GallagherORCiD, Emeritus Professor Nicol Ferrier, Professor Allan Young



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Background--There has been little investigation of early trauma in bipolar disorder despite evidence that stress impacts on the course of this illness. We aimed to compare the rates of childhood trauma in adults with bipolar disorder to a healthy control group, and to investigate the impact of childhood trauma on the clinical course of bipolar disorder. Methods--Retrospective assessment of childhood trauma was conducted using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) in 60 outpatients with bipolar disorder being treated for a depressive episode and 55 control participants across two centres in North East England and New Zealand. Results--Significantly higher rates of childhood trauma were observed in patients with bipolar I and bipolar II disorder compared to controls. Logistic regression, controlling for age and gender, identified emotional neglect to be the only significant CTQ subscale associated with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Childhood history of sexual abuse was not a significant predictor. Associations with clinical severity or course were less clear. Limitations--The relatively small sample size engenders the risk of type II errors. A third treatment arm to include euthymic bipolar patients may have provided a useful comparator group. Although minimised, the potential for recall bias through retrospective assessment, in this study is acknowledged; this could be addressed by conducting a prospective study. Conclusions--Childhood emotional neglect appears to be significantly associated with bipolar disorder. Replication of this study is required, with further investigation into the neurobiological consequences of childhood trauma particularly emotional neglect.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Watson S, Gallagher P, Dougall D, Porter R, Moncrieff J, Ferrier IN, Young AH

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry

Year: 2014

Volume: 48

Issue: 6

Pages: 564-570

Print publication date: 01/06/2014

Online publication date: 16/12/2013

Acceptance date: 01/01/1900

Date deposited: 12/11/2015

ISSN (print): 0004-8674

ISSN (electronic): 1440-1614

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd.


DOI: 10.1177/0004867413516681

PubMed id: 24343193


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Funder referenceFunder name
G0401207Medical Research Council