BACKGROUND: Most epidemiological studies show a decrease of internalizing disorders at older ages, but it is unclear how the prevalence exactly changes with age, and whether there are different patterns for internalizing symptoms and traits, and for men and women. This study investigates the impact of age and sex on the point prevalence across different mood and anxiety disorders, internalizing symptoms, and neuroticism.
METHODS: We used cross-sectional data on 146 315 subjects, aged 18-80 years, from the Lifelines Cohort Study, a Dutch general population sample. Between 2012 and 2016, five current internalizing disorders - major depression, dysthymia, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, and panic disorder - were assessed according to DSM-IV criteria. Depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, neuroticism, and negative affect (NA) were also measured. Generalized additive models were used to identify nonlinear patterns across age, and to investigate sex differences.
RESULTS: The point prevalence of internalizing disorders generally increased between the ages of 18 and 30 years, stabilized between 30 and 50, and decreased after age 50. The patterns of internalizing symptoms and traits were different. NA and neuroticism gradually decreased after age 18. Women reported more internalizing disorders than men, but the relative difference remained stable across age (relative risk ~1.7).
CONCLUSIONS: The point prevalence of internalizing disorders was typically highest between age 30 and 50, but there were differences between the disorders, which could indicate differences in etiology. The relative gap between the sexes remained similar across age, suggesting that changes in sex hormones around the menopause do not significantly influence women's risk of internalizing disorders.