Individuals with early-onset depression may be a clinically distinct group with particular symptom patterns, illness course, comorbidity and family history. This question has not been previously investigated in a Han Chinese population.
We examined the clinical features of 1970 Han Chinese women with DSM-IV major depressive disorder (MDD) between 30 and 60 years of age across China. Analysis of linear, logistic and multiple logistic regression models was used to determine the association between age at onset (AAO) with continuous, binary and discrete characteristic clinical features of MDD.
Earlier AAO was associated with more suicidal ideation and attempts and higher neuroticism, but fewer sleep, appetite and weight changes. Patients with an earlier AAO were more likely to suffer a chronic course (longer illness duration, more MDD episodes and longer index episode), increased rates of MDD in their parents and a lower likelihood of marriage. They tend to have higher comorbidity with anxiety disorders (general anxiety disorder, social phobia and agoraphobia) and dysthymia.
Early AAO in MDD may be an index of a more severe, highly comorbid and familial disorder. Our findings indicate that the features of MDD in China are similar to those reported elsewhere in the world.