Statistical methods for longitudinal research on bipolar disorders


Corresponding author: John Hennen PhD, Biostatistics Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA 02478, USA. Fax: +1-617-855-3299; e-mail:


Objectives: Outcomes research in bipolar disorders, because of complex clinical variation over-time, offers demanding research design and statistical challenges. Longitudinal studies involving relatively large samples, with outcome measures obtained repeatedly over-time, are required. In this report, statistical methods appropriate for such research are reviewed.

Methods: Analytic methods appropriate for repeated measures data include: (i) endpoint analysis; (ii) endpoint analysis with last observation carried forward; (iii) summary statistic methods yielding one summary measure per subject; (iv) random effects and generalized estimating equation (GEE) regression modeling methods; and (v) time-to-event survival analyses.

Results: Use and limitations of these several methods are illustrated within a randomly selected (33%) subset of data obtained in two recently completed randomized, double blind studies on acute mania. Outcome measures obtained repeatedly over 3 or 4 weeks of blinded treatment in active drug and placebo sub-groups included change-from-baseline Young Mania Rating Scale (YMRS) scores (continuous measure) and achievement of a clinical response criterion (50% YMRS reduction). Four of the methods reviewed are especially suitable for use with these repeated measures data: (i) the summary statistic method; (ii) random/mixed effects modeling; (iii) GEE regression modeling; and (iv) survival analysis.

Conclusions: Outcome studies in bipolar illness ideally should be longitudinal in orientation, obtain outcomes data frequently over extended times, and employ large study samples. Missing data problems can be expected, and data analytic methods must accommodate missingness.