The Relationship Between Stressful Life Events and Axis I Diagnoses Among Adolescent Offspring of Probands With Bipolar and Non-Bipolar Psychiatric Disorders and Healthy Controls: The Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study (BIOS)

Background: Previous studies have explored the role of stressful life events in the development of mood disorders. We examined the frequency and nature of stressful life events as measured by the Stressful Life Events Schedule (SLES) among 3 groups of adolescent offspring of probands with bipolar (BD), with non-BD psychiatric disorders, and healthy controls. Furthermore, we examined the relationship between stressful life events and the presence of DSM-IV Axis I disorders in these offspring. Stressful life events were characterized as dependent, independent, or uncertain (neither dependent nor independent) and positive, negative, or neutral (neither positive nor negative).

Methods: Offspring of probands with BD aged 13–18 years (n = 269), demographically matched offspring of probands with non-BD Axis I disorders (n = 88), and offspring of healthy controls (n = 81) from the Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study were assessed from 2002 to 2007 with standardized instruments at intake. Probands completed the SLES for their offspring for life events within the prior year. Life events were evaluated with regard to current Axis I diagnoses in offspring after adjusting for confounds.

Results: After adjusting for demographic and clinical between-group differences (in probands and offspring), offspring of probands with BD had greater independent (χ2 = 11.96, P < .04) and neutral (χ2 = 17.99, P < .003) life events compared with offspring of healthy controls and greater number of more severe stressful life events than offspring of healthy controls, but not offspring of probands with non-BD. Offspring of BD probands with comorbid substance use disorder reported more independent stressful life events compared to those without comorbid substance use disorder (P = .024). Greater frequency and severity of stressful life events were associated with current Axis I disorder in offspring of both probands with BD and probands with other Axis I disorders regardless of dependency or valence. Greater frequency and severity of stressful life events were associated with greater current Axis I disorder in all offspring.

Conclusions: Offspring of probands with BD have greater exposure to independent and neutral life events than offspring of healthy controls. Greater frequency and severity of stressful life events were associated with Axis I disorder in offspring of both BD and non–BD affected probands.

J Clin Psychiatry 2017;78(3):e234–e243

https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.15m09815