Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

David Miklowitz

Second Advisor

Sona Dimidjian

Third Advisor

Erik Willcutt

Fourth Advisor

Charles Judd

Fifth Advisor

Stefanie Mollborn


BACKGROUND: Early-onset bipolar disorder (BD), typically defined as illness onset occurring prior to late adolescence, is associated with a broad range of significant psychosocial impairments. The current study sought to characterize social functioning among patients who had previously participated in a randomized controlled trial of family focused treatment.

METHODS: Thirty BD subjects (mean age = 19.07; female = 62%) and 30 healthy adolescent controls (mean age = 17.50; female = 60%) completed interviews and a battery of questionnaires assessing social functioning and psychiatric symptoms. BD participants’ current data were compared to social functioning, affective symptom, and family functioning data collected during intake assessments for the treatment study.

RESULTS: BD participants reported poorer social functioning than controls across all study measures. Levels of depression predicted use of social skills; social functioning was otherwise independent of concurrent affective symptoms. Intake measures of social functioning did not predict current social impairment; teen- and parent-reported family cohesion at study intake significantly predicted current social skill use. Finally, depression at study intake, and not prior measures of social functioning, predicted current depression.

CONCLUSIONS: Those with early-onset BD lag behind their healthy peers in social functioning, suggesting the importance of interpersonal impairment as a treatment target with this population. Future longitudinal studies are needed to gain a more precise understanding of the relationship between social functioning and family variables.