Age at onset of mental disorders worldwide: large-scale meta-analysis of 192 epidemiological studies

Marco Solmi, Joaquim Radua, Miriam Olivola, Enrico Croce, Livia Soardo, Gonzalo Salazar de Pablo, Jae Il Shin, James B. Kirkbride, Peter Jones, Jae Han Kim, Jong Yeob Kim, Andrè F. Carvalho, Mary V. Seeman, Christoph U. Correll, Paolo Fusar-Poli

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Promotion of good mental health, prevention, and early intervention before/at the onset of mental disorders improve outcomes. However, the range and peak ages at onset for mental disorders are not fully established. To provide robust, global epidemiological estimates of age at onset for mental disorders, we conducted a PRISMA/MOOSE-compliant systematic review with meta-analysis of birth cohort/cross-sectional/cohort studies, representative of the general population, reporting age at onset for any ICD/DSM-mental disorders, identified in PubMed/Web of Science (up to 16/05/2020) (PROSPERO:CRD42019143015). Co-primary outcomes were the proportion of individuals with onset of mental disorders before age 14, 18, 25, and peak age at onset, for any mental disorder and across International Classification of Diseases 11 diagnostic blocks. Median age at onset of specific disorders was additionally investigated. Across 192 studies (n = 708,561) included, the proportion of individuals with onset of any mental disorders before the ages of 14, 18, 25 were 34.6%, 48.4%, 62.5%, and peak age was 14.5 years (k = 14, median = 18, interquartile range (IQR) = 11–34). For diagnostic blocks, the proportion of individuals with onset of disorder before the age of 14, 18, 25 and peak age were as follows: neurodevelopmental disorders: 61.5%, 83.2%, 95.8%, 5.5 years (k = 21, median=12, IQR = 7–16), anxiety/fear-related disorders: 38.1%, 51.8%, 73.3%, 5.5 years (k = 73, median = 17, IQR = 9–25), obsessive-compulsive/related disorders: 24.6%, 45.1%, 64.0%, 14.5 years (k = 20, median = 19, IQR = 14–29), feeding/eating disorders/problems: 15.8%, 48.1%, 82.4%, 15.5 years (k = 11, median = 18, IQR = 15–23), conditions specifically associated with stress disorders: 16.9%, 27.6%, 43.1%, 15.5 years (k = 16, median = 30, IQR = 17–48), substance use disorders/addictive behaviours: 2.9%, 15.2%, 48.8%, 19.5 years (k = 58, median = 25, IQR = 20–41), schizophrenia-spectrum disorders/primary psychotic states: 3%, 12.3%, 47.8%, 20.5 years (k = 36, median = 25, IQR = 20–34), personality disorders/related traits: 1.9%, 9.6%, 47.7%, 20.5 years (k = 6, median = 25, IQR = 20–33), and mood disorders: 2.5%, 11.5%, 34.5%, 20.5 years (k = 79, median = 31, IQR = 21–46). No significant difference emerged by sex, or definition of age of onset. Median age at onset for specific mental disorders mapped on a time continuum, from phobias/separation anxiety/autism spectrum disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder/social anxiety (8-13 years) to anorexia nervosa/bulimia nervosa/obsessive-compulsive/binge eating/cannabis use disorders (17-22 years), followed by schizophrenia, personality, panic and alcohol use disorders (25-27 years), and finally post-traumatic/depressive/generalized anxiety/bipolar/acute and transient psychotic disorders (30-35 years), with overlap among groups and no significant clustering. These results inform the timing of good mental health promotion/preventive/early intervention, updating the current mental health system structured around a child/adult service schism at age 18.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-295
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Jan

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Conflict of interest MS has been a consultant and/or advisor to or has received honoraria from Angelini, Lundbeck. CUC has been a consultant and/or advisor to or has received honoraria from Acadia, Alkermes, Allergan, Angelini, Axsome, Gedeon Richter, Gerson Lehrman Group, IntraCellular Therapies, Janssen/J&J, LB Pharma, Lundbeck, MedAvante-ProPhase, Medscape, Neurocrine, Noven, Otsuka, Pfizer, Recordati, Rovi, Sumitomo Dainippon, Sunovion, Supernus, Takeda, and Teva. He has provided expert testimony for Janssen and Otsuka. He served on a Data Safety Monitoring Board for Lundbeck, Rovi, Supernus, and Teva. He received royalties from UpToDate and grant support from Janssen and Takeda. He is also a stock option holder of LB Pharma. PF-P has received grant fees from Lundbeck and honoraria from Lundbeck, Menarini and Angelini, outside the current work. All other authors declare no conflict of interest.

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This work was supported by Wellcome Trust Innovator Grant to PFP. Furthermore, the study was supported by Miguel Servet Research Contract (CPII19/00009 to JR), Alicia Koplowitz Foundation and Research Project Grants (PI19/00394) from the Instituto de Salud Carlos III and co-funded by European Union (ERDF/ESF, ‘Investing in your future’). JBK is supported by the National Institute of Health Research University College London Hospital Biomedical Research Centre.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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