Psychological Disorders: At What Ages Do They Appear?

A meta-analysis carried out by several experts has managed to establish the average ages at which the most common psychological and mental disorders appear. This information is extremely relevant when it comes to preventing, diagnosing, and caring more effectively for patients with these conditions.
Psychological Disorders: At What Ages Do They Appear?

Last update: 21 May, 2022

Psychological and mental disorders remain a field in which there are more questions than answers. They’re also an arena in which a great deal of worldwide research is taking place. This means that we now have more and better quality information to prevent, identify, and treat these conditions.

A study conducted in 2021 and published in Molecular Psychiatry has provided key data in respect of psychological disorders. It concerns the average age at which each of these conditions appears. The information is extremely important both to prevent and help guide differential diagnoses.

One of the most important conclusions of the research was that psychological and mental disorders usually appear during the first 25 years of life. The most critical moment is 14 years. Indeed, it appears that, at this age, a good number of psychological difficulties are unleashed. Let’s take a look at what else the study claims.

Loving discipline is what helps someone grow the most. Sometimes, they’re overprotected. This doesn’t prepare them and their frustrations aren’t overcome. Or, vice versa, the limits placed on them are too aggressive and there’s a lack of affection that damages self-esteem.”

-Neus Garcia-

The study on age and psychological disorders

The research on age and psychological disorders was conducted by the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona (Spain). They published the results in 2021. The scientists conducted a meta-analysis, based on 192 previously conducted studies. In total, they analyzed data from 70,8561 patients.

All of these patients had been diagnosed with psychological or mental disorders. The aim of the study was to establish the average age at which these problems had first occurred. Average age doesn’t suggest an exact figure, but rather a calculation. Therefore, in reality, conditions might appear a little earlier, later, or exactly at the specified age.

The researchers reported that they experienced great difficulty in processing the data. This was because each person analyzed demonstrated a rather particular pattern to some extent. In other words, each of them was unique. For this reason, the researchers found it hard to obtain concrete results. However, they eventually achieved them, thanks to the creation of special algorithms.

Anxious young girl
Adolescence is a critical stage for the appearance of psychological disorders.

Study results

Doctors Joaquim Raduà from IDIBAPS, Marco Solmi from the University of Padua, and Paolo Fusaro-Poli from King’s College, London were the three study coordinators. They decided to focus the study on 17 psychological and mental disorders. These were considered to be the most frequent in the world.

The results indicated that the average age of onset of psychological and mental disorders is as follows:

  • Phobias and separation anxiety: Eight years.
  • Autism spectrum disorder: Nine years.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: 12 years.
  • Social anxiety: 13 years.
  • Anorexia nervosa: 17 years.
  • Bulimia nervosa: 18 years.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder : 19 years.
  • Binge eating disorder: 20 years.
  • Cannabis use disorder: 22 years.
  • Schizophrenia: 25 years.
  • Panic disorder: 26 years.
  • Alcohol abuse disorder: 27 years.
  • Depression: 30 years.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: 30 years.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: 32 years.
  • Bipolar disorder: 33 years.
  • Acute and transient psychoses: 35 years.

These results led the researchers to conclude that most psychological disorders appear in the first 25 years of life. This makes it clear that adolescence is a critical stage.

Woman with anxiety due to mood swings
Depression and post-traumatic stress disorders usually appear in our thirties.

The perspectives

Most health systems establish a cut-off at 18 years of age in the care of psychological and mental disorders. In fact, they completely separate assistance to minors from that of adults. However, the data shows us that, in reality, this break doesn’t exist and is purely artificial.

Therefore, the results of the study could serve to devise a new approach. That’s because it’s not correct to propose a division between the disorders that occur in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. As a matter of fact, based on the findings, it might be better to focus attention on critical ages.

Finally, the experts reiterated the important fact that the first years of life are decisive in psychological and mental disorders. In fact, the first year of life forms the foundation for everything that follows and affectionate discipline is the best parenting guideline. Indeed, if applied, many problems will likely be minimized or avoided later on.

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  • Solmi, M., Radua, J., Olivola, M. et al. Age at onset of mental disorders worldwide: large-scale meta-analysis of 192 epidemiological studies. Mol Psychiatry 27, 281–295 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-021-01161-7.