Adolescent Somatic Symptoms Linked to Adult Depression and Anxiety

Symptoms of physical pain often are associated with mental health issues. People who have anxiety or depression may experience a number of somatic symptoms long before they are diagnosed with a mood issue. But can these somatic symptoms, which often go untreated, be an indicator of future psychological concerns? When adolescents experience depression, it can put them at risk for future mood problems. However, when they experience physical pain with no identifiable physical cause, they often are never referred for psychological evaluation. Hannes Bohman of the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University in Sweden wanted to find out if somatic symptoms in adolescence predicted future mental health issues.

Bohman conducted a study that compared somatic symptoms and mental health symptoms in adolescence to adult outcomes 15 years later. In all, Bohman had longitudinal data from 369 individuals. He found that the best indicator of adult depression was the presence of somatic symptoms and depressive symptoms in adolescence. However, Bohman also found that adolescents without depression, and only somatic symptoms, had a high risk of future mental health issues. “Several somatic symptoms concurrent with adolescent depression are strongly linked to later high rates of suicidal attempts, bipolar disorders, psychotic disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, recurrent depression, and chronic depression,” Bohman said.

As the number of somatic symptoms increased, so did the severity of future issues. Specifically, those with the most somatic symptoms in adolescence were at risk for bipolar, psychosis, and suicidal ideation. The most common and telling somatic symptom was abdominal pain, a symptom often dismissed by health care professionals as anxiety related even though it may not be. This suggests that somatic symptoms, and adolescent abdominal pain in particular, may be more accurate indicators of adult psychological issues than symptoms of depression. Bohman believes that the link between adolescent abdominal pain and adult mental illness should not be ignored. Further, he hopes that the results of this study will prompt other research efforts aimed at isolating factors that could identify young people most at risk for mental health problems in adulthood.

Bohman, Hannes, et al. Prognostic significance of functional somatic symptoms in adolescence: A 15-year community-based follow-up study of adolescents with depression compared with healthy peers. BMC Psychiatry 12 (2012): 90. Health Reference Center Academic. Web. 28 Sep. 2012.

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  • Maddie


    October 17th, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    You know that as an adult it is so frustrating to have pain and know that it is there bot no oneseems to be bale to tell you where it is coming from, how to prevent or even treat it. So imagine beginning these kinds of feelings when you are a child and then being forced to live with it throughout your youth and adulthood. That is a terribly long time to go with being in pain and having no answers. Add to this the feeling that there are some who may think that you are making this up, and that could make it even worse, because it is terrible when you feel like no on is listening or even believes that there is something there causing you this pain.

  • Stella


    October 17th, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    If I am the parent of a child experiencing these symptoms, then I am not going to stop until I have resolution. I would not allow this to carry on for so long, sometimes these are fights that you have to do on your own and stop waiting for someone else to give you the answers.

  • the amero

    the amero

    October 17th, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    what about childhood somatic symptoms?I had this terrible abdominal pain when I was 5-7 yo and now I’m 23 and this makes me a little concerned.the pain was not present during my adolescent I still at risk?

  • Peter


    October 18th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    abdominal pain? Caused by stress? has this link been studied?

  • rodney taylor

    rodney taylor

    October 18th, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    never heard of such a relation.if this is accurate enough then we could have warning signs years before the problem actually sets in and thereby more and more chances of preventive measures.will definitely be a great development if you ask me!

  • madden


    October 20th, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    Like anything if you catch it in time and allow yourself to see the warning signs that are there you might be able to change the trajectory of one’s life.

  • Christine


    August 27th, 2013 at 7:51 AM

    Parents should allow their kids to enjoy and play. Along the way, they should be careful on what their children is doing or eating.

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