Aim: Early stages of severe mood disorders may be accompanied by neurocognitive changes. Specifically, deficits in verbal memory have been linked to depression in young people. This study examined whether young adults with unipolar compared with bipolar depression showed similar neurocognitive deficits.
Methods: A total of 57 young adults (16–32 years) were assessed in this study. Twenty with unipolar and 20 with bipolar depression, all currently depressed, were compared with 17 healthy controls. Neuropsychological assessment included psychomotor speed, attention for routine mental operations, attentional switching, executive control and verbal learning and memory.
Results: Both unipolar and bipolar subjects showed significant impairments in verbal memory and attentional switching compared with controls. Both mood disorder groups showed no impairments in psychomotor speed, attention for routine mental operations and executive control. Effects size calculations show that the unipolar and bipolar groups do not differ from each other across a range of neurocognitive measures.
Conclusion: Neurocognitive deficits in young adults with current depressive syndromes appear to differ from those typically seen in older patients. In early adulthood, both unipolar and bipolar depression may be distinguished by poor verbal memory, despite intact speed of processing, attention and executive functions. This study suggests that there is utility in neuropsychological testing for young adults in the early stages of severe mood disorders. In order to prevent neurobiological changes inherent to the disease, pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions that target verbal memory deficits may be optimally delivered early in the disease course.