Mental disorders often have onset early in life, contribute substantially to the global disease burden, and may interfere with young people’s ability to complete age-relevant tasks in important developmental periods. However, knowledge about prevalence and course of mental disorders in young adulthood is sparse. The aim of the current study was to estimate prevalence and stability of mental disorders from the twenties to the thirties/forties.

DSM-IV mental disorders were assessed with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview in two waves (1999–2004 and 2010–2011) in 1623 young adult Norwegian twins (63.2% women, aged 19–29 years in wave 1).

In wave 1, the 12-month prevalence of any mental disorder among people in the twenties was 19.8% (men) and 32.4% (women), anxiety disorders: 9.6% (men) and 26.7% (women), anxiety disorders excluding specific phobias: 2.5% (men) and 6.9% (women), major depressive disorder (MDD): 4.4% (men) and 7.2% (women), and alcohol use disorder (AUD): 8.7% (men) and 4.4% (women). The prevalence of any mental disorder decreased from the twenties to the thirties/forties. This was due to a decrease in AUD and specific phobias. Anxiety disorders in the twenties predicted anxiety disorders and MDD ten years later, even when controlling for the association between these disorders in the twenties. MDD in the twenties predicted MDD ten years later. At both ages, two-week and 12-month prevalence estimates differed markedly for MDD – indicating an episodic course.

Common mental disorders are highly prevalent among young adults in the twenties, and somewhat less prevalent in the thirties/forties. Those who suffer from one mental disorder in the twenties are at considerably increased risk for suffering from a disorder ten years later as well. This may have significant implications for young people’s ability to attain education, establish a family, and participate in occupational life.

Kristin Gustavson, Ann Kristin Knudsen, Ragnar Nesvåg, Gun Peggy Knudsen, Stein Emil Vollset and Ted Reichborn-Kjennerud
BMC Psychiatry, 2018 18:65