Purpose of review: The aim of this article is to review recent epidemiological research on age-of-onset of mental disorders, focusing on the WHO World Mental Health surveys.
Recent findings: Median and inter-quartile range (IQR; 25th-75th percentiles) of age-of-onset is much earlier for phobias (7-14, IQR 4-20) and impulse-control disorders (7-15; IQR 4-35) than other anxiety disorders (25-53, IQR 15-75), mood disorders (25-45, IQR 17-65), and substance disorders (18-29, IQR 16-43). Although less data exist for nonaffective psychosis, available evidence suggests that median age-of-onset is in the range late teens through early 20s. Roughly half of all lifetime mental disorders in most studies start by the mid-teens and three quarters by the mid-20s. Later onsets are mostly secondary conditions. Severe disorders are typically preceded by less severe disorders that are seldom brought to clinical attention.
Summary: First onset of mental disorders usually occur in childhood or adolescence, although treatment typically does not occur until a number of years later. Although interventions with early incipient disorders might help reduce severity-persistence of primary disorders and prevent secondary disorders, additional research is needed on appropriate treatments for early incipient cases and on long-term evaluation of the effects of early intervention on secondary prevention.