Identifying Early Indicators in Bipolar Disorder: A Qualitative Study
The identification of early markers has become a focus for early intervention in bipolar disorder. Using a retrospective, qualitative methodology, the present study compares the early experiences of participants with bipolar disorder to those with unipolar depression up until their first diagnosed episode. The study focuses on differences in early home and school environments as well as putative differences in personality characteristics between the two groups. Finally we a compare and contrast prodromal symptoms in these two populations. Thirty-nine participants, 20 diagnosed with unipolar depression and 19 diagnosed with bipolar disorder, took part in the study. A semi-structured interview was developed to elicit information about participants’ experiences prior to their first episode. Participants with bipolar disorder reported disruptive home environments, driven personality features, greater emotion dysregulation and adverse experiences during the school years, whereas participants with depression tended to describe more supportive home environments, and more compliant and introvert personality traits. Retrospective data collection and no corroborative evidence from other family members. No distinction was made between bipolar I and bipolar II disorder nor between melancholic and non-melancholic depression in the sample. Finally the study spanned over a 12-month period which does not allow for the possibility of diagnostic reassignment of some of the bipolar participants to the unipolar condition. These findings indicate that there may be benefits in combining both proximal and distal indicators in identifying a bipolar disorder phenotype which, in turn, may be relevant to the development of early intervention programs for young people with bipolar disorder.