Association of History of Psychopathology With Accelerated Aging at Midlife

Jasmin Wertz, Avshalom Caspi, Antony Ambler, Jonathan Broadbent, Robert J Hancox, HonaLee Harrington, Sean Hogan, Renate M Houts, Joan H Leung, Richie Poulton, Suzanne C Purdy, Sandhya Ramrakha, Line Jee Hartmann Rasmussen, Leah S Richmond-Rakerd, Peter R Thorne, Graham A Wilson, Terrie E Moffitt

24 Citations (Scopus)


Importance: Individuals with mental disorders are at an elevated risk of developing chronic age-related physical diseases. However, it is not clear whether psychopathology is also associated with processes of accelerated aging that precede the onset of age-related disease. Objective: To test the hypothesis that a history of psychopathology is associated with indicators of accelerated aging at midlife. Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective cohort study was based on the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a population-representative birth cohort of 1037 individuals born between April 1, 1972, and March 31, 1973, in Dunedin, New Zealand. Members were followed up to age 45 years (until April 2019). Data were analyzed from January 6 to December 7, 2020. Exposures: Mental disorders were assessed in 6 diagnostic assessments from ages 18 to 45 years and transformed through confirmatory factor analysis into continuous measures of general psychopathology (p-factor) and dimensions of internalizing, externalizing, and thought disorders (all standardized to a mean [SD] of 100 [15]). Main Outcomes and Measures: Signs of aging (biological pace of aging; declines in sensory, motor, and cognitive functioning; and facial age) were assessed up to age 45 years using previously validated measures including biomarkers, clinical tests, and self-reports. Results: Of the original 1037 cohort participants, 997 were still alive at age 45 years, of whom 938 (94%) were assessed (474 men [50.5%]). Participants who had experienced more psychopathology exhibited a faster pace of biological aging (β, 0.27; 95% CI, 0.21-0.33; P <.01); experienced more difficulties with hearing (β, 0.18; 95% CI, 0.12-0.24; P <.01), vision (β, 0.08; 95% CI, 0.01-0.14; P <.05), balance (β, 0.20; 95% CI, 0.14-0.26; P <.01), and motor functioning (β, 0.19; 95% CI, 0.12-0.25; P <.01); experienced more cognitive difficulties (β, 0.24; 95% CI, 0.18-0.31; P <.01); and were rated as looking older (β, 0.20; 95% CI, 0.14-0.26; P <.01). Associations persisted after controlling for sex, childhood health indicators, maltreatment, and socioeconomic status and after taking into account being overweight, smoking, use of antipsychotic medication, and the presence of physical disease. Tests of diagnostic specificity revealed that associations were generalizable across externalizing, internalizing, and thought disorders. Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study, a history of psychopathology was associated with accelerated aging at midlife, years before the typical onset of age-related diseases. This link is not specific to any particular disorder family but generalizes across disorders. Prevention of psychopathology and monitoring of individuals with mental disorders for signs of accelerated aging may have the potential to reduce health inequalities and extend healthy lives..

Original languageEnglish
Article number4626
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)530-539
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


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