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Br J Psychiatry Suppl. 2013 Jan;54:s5-10. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.112.119164.

Adult mental health disorders and their age at onset.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, CAMEO Early Intervention Services, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation National Health Service Trust, Herchel Smith Building for Brain and Mind Science, Cambridge CB2 0SX, UK.


The study of age at onset of mental health disorders is technically and conceptually difficult. It is important to consider these age distributions in order to understand causes and mechanisms of illness and to intervene at an appropriate juncture for primary and secondary prevention. This article reviews some of the approaches to studying age at onset, sets out the evidence to support the assertion that adult mental disorders begin in adolescence, and finds that perhaps half of all adult mental health disorders have begun by the teenage years. The paper then discusses whether this fits what is known about the developmental neurobiology of the brain and introduces the implications for mental health services.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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