The British Journal of Psychiatry

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Background Few investigations have examined the impact of childhood trauma, and domains of childhood abuse, on outcome in bipolar disorder.

Aims To evaluate the prevalence and subtypes of childhood abuse reported by adult patients with bipolar disorder and relationship to clinical outcome.

Method Prevalence rates of childhood abuse were retrospectively assessed and examined relative to illness complexity in a sample of 100 patients at an academic specialty centre for the treatment of bipolar disorder.

Results Histories of severe childhood abuse were identified in about half of the sample and were associated with early age at illness onset. Abuse subcategories were strongly inter-related. Severe emotional abuse was significantly associated with lifetime substance misuse comorbidity and past-year rapid cycling. Logistic regression indicated a significant association between lifetime suicide attempts and severe childhood sexual abuse. Multiple forms of abuse showed a graded increase in risk for both suicide attempts and rapid cycling.

Conclusions Severe childhood trauma appears to have occurred in about half of patients with bipolar disorder, and may lead to more complex psychopathological manifestations.

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