Early identification and intervention of individuals with risk factors for or subtle prodromal symptoms of bipolar disorders (BD) may improve the illness course and prevent adverse long-term consequences.
We examined sociodemographic, clinical and psychopathological characteristics of help-seeking adolescents and young adults who consulted the Early Detection and Intervention Center Dresden at the University of Dresden (Germany) and presented with or without pre-defined at-risk criteria for BD. The standardized diagnostic procedure for all help-seeking youth included a comprehensive psychiatric history and a structured clinical interview. When BD at-risk state was suspected, early detection instruments (EPIbipolar, BPSS-FP) were applied. Treatment recommendations were formulated in multi-professional case conferences.
Out of 890 help-seeking persons between 05/2009 and 04/2018, 582 (65%) completed the diagnostic process. Of these, 24 (4%) had manifest BD and 125 (21%) fulfilled at-risk BD criteria (age = 23.9 ± 0.6 years, female = 62%). Of the pre-defined main risk factors, family history for BD was reported in 22% of the at-risk persons, (hypo-)mania risk state in 44%, and increasing cyclothymic mood swings with increased activity in 48%. The most common secondary risk factors were decreased psychosocial functioning (78%), lifetime diagnosis of depressive disorder (67%) and specific sleep/circadian rhythm disturbances (59%). Substance use was very common in subjects at-risk for BD (cannabis = 50%, alcohol = 33%) and highest in patients with BD (cannabis = 75%, alcohol = 40%). Psychiatric treatment history, including psychopharmacological therapy, was similar between the groups, while treatment recommendations differed, with more advice for psychotherapy and antidepressants in the at-risk group with a lifetime diagnosis of depression and more advice for specialized BD treatment including mood stabilizers in patients with BD.
This analysis on the phenomenology of different BD at-risk stages suggests that early detection of individuals presenting with suggested risk factors for the development of BD is feasible in help-seeking young people. Future research should further develop/test stage-specific prevention and early targeted intervention approaches that were described in a naturalistic setting.