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Crabby kids = depressed adults?

September 2, 2009 | 10:31 am

Irritable Irritability in childhood has long been suspected of being a potential symptom of depression. A new study confirms this link.

Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health questioned the parents of 631 teen-agers, whose average age was 13.8, about irritability in their children. Twenty years later, the same children, now adults, were assessed for mood and anxiety disorders. The people who were irritable kids were more likely to be adults with depression or anxiety. However, irritability in adolescence did not predict later development of bipolar disorder or other serious mental health disorders.

The study found that irritability and arguing with parents and teachers were strongly linked in adolescence. Anger or tantrums in reaction to parents' requests were strong predictors of major depression or anxiety disorders in adulthood as was arguing with teachers. Irritable youths were more likely to have a lower income and educational attainment as adults.

Irritability is the tendency to react with anger, grouchiness or tantrums that are disproportionate to the situation. Some studies estimate that about 5% of youths, ages 8 to 19, are irritable while in adults the prevalence is thought to be slightly less. The researchers note that studies on irritability are scarce. But  they wrote: "These data suggest that irritability occupies a position at the interface between emotional and disruptive behavior problems."

The study is published in the September issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Brian Vander Brug  /  Los Angeles Times

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