Context: Major depressive disorder (MDD) that arises in adolescence impairs functioning and is associated with suicide risk, but little is known about its continuity into adulthood.
Objective: To describe the clinical course of adolescent-onset MDD into adulthood.
Design and participants: Prospective case-control study. Seventy-three subjects had onset of MDD based on systematic clinical assessment during adolescence (Tanner stage III-V) and 37 controls had no evidence of past or current psychiatric disorders, and also were assessed in adolescence (assessment years: 1977-1985). Follow-up was conducted 10 to 15 years after the initial assessment by an independent team without knowledge of initial diagnosis (follow-up years: 1992-1996).
Setting: Cases were identified at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, New York City, NY; controls were recruited from the community.
Main outcome measures: Suicide and suicide attempts, psychiatric diagnoses, treatment utilization, and social functioning.
Results: Clinical outcomes of adolescent-onset MDD into adulthood compared with control subjects without psychiatric illness include a high rate of suicide (7.7%); a 5-fold increased risk for first suicide attempt; a 2-fold increased risk of MDD, but not other psychiatric disorders; an increased occurrence of psychiatric and medical hospitalization; and impaired functioning in work, social, and family life. Thirty-seven percent of those with adolescent MDD survived without an episode of MDD in adulthood vs 69% of the control participants (relative risk, 2.2 [95% confidence interval, 1.0-4.7; P<.05]).
Conclusion: There is substantial continuity, specificity, morbidity, and potential mortality from suicide into adulthood in adolescent-onset MDD patients. Now that empirically based guides to their treatment are becoming available, early identification and treatment seems warranted.