Background: Research on the structure of co-morbidity among common mental disorders has largely focused on current prevalence rather than on the development of co-morbidity. This report presents preliminary results of the latter type of analysis based on the US National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A).
Method: A national survey was carried out of adolescent mental disorders. DSM-IV diagnoses were based on the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) administered to adolescents and questionnaires self-administered to parents. Factor analysis examined co-morbidity among 15 lifetime DSM-IV disorders. Discrete-time survival analysis was used to predict first onset of each disorder from information about prior history of the other 14 disorders.
Results: Factor analysis found four factors representing fear, distress, behavior and substance disorders. Associations of temporally primary disorders with the subsequent onset of other disorders, dated using retrospective age-of-onset (AOO) reports, were almost entirely positive. Within-class associations (e.g. distress disorders predicting subsequent onset of other distress disorders) were more consistently significant (63.2%) than between-class associations (33.0%). Strength of associations decreased as co-morbidity among disorders increased. The percentage of lifetime disorders explained (in a predictive rather than a causal sense) by temporally prior disorders was in the range 3.7-6.9% for earliest-onset disorders [specific phobia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)] and much higher (23.1-64.3%) for later-onset disorders. Fear disorders were the strongest predictors of most other subsequent disorders.
Conclusions: Adolescent mental disorders are highly co-morbid. The strong associations of temporally primary fear disorders with many other later-onset disorders suggest that fear disorders might be promising targets for early interventions.