Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Following the bread crumb trail

Reuters is reporting that a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry has found that half of patients with bipolar disorder treated in an academic setting have experienced some type of childhood abuse or trauma. While not pathbreaking, the study replicates the conclusions of numerous previous studies that have found a similar link.

Of course, there are some oddities in the study's conclusion. For example, while in the general population, women are more frequently the victims of all types of abuse, particularly physical and sexual abuse, in the bipolar population, the rates of abuse are not impacted by gender. Interesting, eh?

The study also found a link between the severity of abuse and the incidence of adult suicidality. So, for example, if man A was physically abused and man B was sexually, physically and emotionally abused, man B would be more likely to commit suicide. His bipolar disorder would typically manifest itself sooner that his counterparts as well.

Abuse was linked to rapid cycling and substance abuse as well.

Personally, I don't find these conclusions all that shocking. The study was unable to explain the mechanism by which abuse impacted the development of a child's brain. Moreover, it did not attempt to explain why one child exposed to abuse would develop bipolar disorder while another would not.

The study also didn't explain or examine the 50 percent of bipolar people who do not have a history of serious childhood abuse. After all, it seems odd that a child raised in a nuturing environment could manifest with a more severe case of bipolar disorder than a child raised by abusive and neglectful parents.

I don't deny that it's fascinating that the rates of childhood abuse in people with all mental illnesses, not just bipolar, are higher than the rates of childhood abuse in the rest of the population. But to me, this study simply raises questions without providing any concrete answers to any of them.

It almost feels like these psychiatric folk were staring at two kittens and trying to determine why one slept while the other groomed.