Young woman with mental illness getting comforted and educated about when mental illness starts

Do most people develop a mental illness as a child? In their 20s? Or much later in life? While mental illness can begin at any age, some statistics show that mental illness most often begins by age 14. However, the onset of mental illness can vary greatly depending on the condition.

The Average Onset of Common Mental Illnesses Infographic

Could you have a mental illness at your current age? If you notice symptoms, contact Georgetown Behavioral Hospital to find out.

At What Age Do You Get Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can start in childhood, during the teen years, in mid-life, or even when you are much older. The most common age for bipolar disorder to begin is 17.3 years, according to a scientific review published in 2020. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to see signs when they are exactly 17.3 years old. Instead, the study identified three groups with different ages at the onset.

The three groups became mentally ill at different average ages. The early-onset group average was 17.3 years old when they received their diagnosis. The mid-onset group was 26, and the late-onset was 41 on average. Still, some people were diagnosed in early childhood, though this is rare. Even elderly people can get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.


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If you are wondering at what age bipolar shows up and whether you have bipolar disorder, it may help you to take a look at the symptoms. There are two distinct types of episodes of bipolar disorder: mania and depression.

Mania and Hypomania Episodes

Mania and hypomania have the same symptoms, but they are different in other ways. For example, mania tends to be more severe than hypomania. Therefore, mania usually causes more problems in your life. If you have three or more of the symptoms below, you might be in the manic or hypomanic phase of bipolar disorder.

  • Euphoria or agitation
  • Talking rapidly
  • More energy than usual
  • Grandiosity or exaggerated self-importance
  • Being full of ideas or making overly ambitious plans
  • Easily distracted
  • Having delusions or hallucinations
  • Not feeling the need to sleep or eat
  • Engaging in risky behavior or spending too much
  • Doing things that are out of character

Bipolar Depression Symptoms

  • Sadness, hopelessness, or irritable
  • Low energy
  • Trouble with memory or concentration
  • Loss of interest in things usually enjoyed
  • Feeling worthless or empty
  • Feeling guilty
  • Pessimistic
  • Eating or sleeping too little or too much
  • Suicidal thoughts or plans
  • Having delusions, hallucinations, or disturbed thinking

Interestingly, the age of onset makes a difference in how the disease progresses and the recommended treatments. The best thing you can do when you suspect you have bipolar disorder is to see a psychiatrist or psychotherapist to discuss what you’ve noticed and find out if you have the mental illness.

When Can You Get Depression?

The symptoms of depression are similar to the symptoms of bipolar depression, but you do not have any manic symptoms. People usually get their first symptoms at the following times:

  • Early-onset: 17
  • Median onset: 26
  • Late Onset: 34

Diagnosis usually comes after people have noticed symptoms for a significant amount of time. People with depression are usually diagnosed, on average, at these times.

  • Early: 21
  • Median: 35
  • Oldest: 46

When Do Signs of Schizophrenia First Show Up?

Schizophrenia is a chronic disease that requires constant care. It can be very helpful to get a diagnosis as early as possible. When might you first notice symptoms of schizophrenia? The most common age to start seeing symptoms is during the mid-to-late 20s. However, many people’s symptoms start as late as their mid-30s.

If you have these symptoms before age 18, that is called early onset. Very rarely, a child under the age of 13 may have symptoms of schizophrenia. Here are the symptoms to watch for in this mental illness.

  • Problems with unusual thoughts
  • Confusion about what is real, such as thinking a dream or television program is your real life.
  • Socially withdrawing
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Low motivation and poor performance in school or work
  • Failing to take care of daily grooming needs
  • Strange behavior
  • Aggressive behavior or agitation
  • Substance use
  • Depressed mood
  • Lack of or inappropriate emotions
  • Feeling inappropriately anxious or fearful
  • Being suspicious of others
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Poor communication or bizarre thought patterns
  • Abnormal movement
  • Unable to function
  • Lack of visible emotions

Although these symptoms seem like they would be very noticeable, it can be very difficult to recognize them at a young age. So, it’s important to seek help if you see any signs of schizophrenia.

At What Age Could You First Experience Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety can be extremely difficult to live with. These disorders can disrupt your life, causing you to feel highly uncomfortable and fearful. Some types of anxiety bring avoidant behavior such that you fear leaving your home, being left alone, or being in specific situations.

Three types of anxiety disorders have a mean onset of 15 years old, including:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Specific phobias
  • Social phobia

Other anxiety disorders appear most often between the average ages of 21.1 and 34.9 years. Here are some disorders that most often show up between these ages.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

The symptoms of anxiety disorders vary depending on which disorder you have. Here are some of the most prevalent types of anxiety and their symptoms.

Generalized anxiety disorder:

  • Feeling restless or on edge
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Worrying
  • Sleep problems

Panic disorder:

  • Heart palpitations, or racing or pounding heart
  • Chest pains
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feeling out-of-control

Social anxiety disorder:

  • Blushing or trembling
  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Stomach pains
  • Speaking too softly
  • Feeling self-conscious
  • Feeling like you’re being judged

Phobias:

  • Fearful of a specific situation or object
  • Avoiding this object or situation
  • Intense anxiety when exposed to the feared thing

Agoraphobia:

When you have agoraphobia, you experience intense fear of two or more of the following:

  • Public transportation
  • Open spaces
  • Enclosed spaces
  • Crowds
  • Being away from home

Separation anxiety:

Children, even very young ones, may develop separation anxiety. However, separation anxiety can happen at any age. If you have this disorder, you are afraid when a person you have a strong bond with is away from you or preparing to leave. You may worry that something will happen to them or to you while they are out of your sight. You may have nightmares about it or do everything you can to avoid being without them for any length of time. You may even experience physical symptoms when they are away.

How to Find Out If You Have a Mental Illness

Vast numbers of people have mental illness and don’t get treatment for it. Or, they might wait until it is severe before trying to find out what is wrong. When you have symptoms of mental illness, no matter what age you are, it’s best to seek help right away. If the symptoms are still mild, you might be able to get the disorder under control. Your psychiatrist and therapist can help you learn to manage your illness.

At Georgetown Behavioral Hospital in Southern Ohio, we offer inpatient care for mental disorders on a voluntary admission basis. Whether your signs point to anxiety, bipolar disorder, or any other type of mental illness, the first step is to ask for help.

Your GBH psychiatrist can make the diagnosis and manage your medications, while your therapist can help you learn to live well despite your mental health problem. You are never too young or too old to get the treatment you need at a mental health facility with a strong team of doctors, nurses, and psychotherapists. You can find that team waiting to help you at Georgetown Behavioral Hospital.

Are you wondering if you or a loved one might have a mental illness? Contact Georgetown Behavioral Hospital to get the attention and excellent care you deserve.

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