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Mood lability and psychopathology in youth

  • A. Stringaris (a1) and R. Goodman (a1)

Mood lability is a concept widely used. However, data on its prevalence and morbid associations are scarce. We sought to establish the occurrence and importance of mood lability in a large community sample of children and adolescents by testing a priori hypotheses.


Cross-sectional data were taken from a national mental health survey including 5326 subjects aged 8–19 years in the UK. The outcomes were prevalence and characteristics of mood lability and its associations with psychopathology and overall impairment.


Mood lability occurred in more than 5% of the population of children and adolescents, both by parent and self-report. Mood lability was strongly associated with a wide range of psychopathology and was linked to significant impairment even in the absence of psychiatric disorders. Mood lability was particularly strongly associated with co-morbidity between internalizing and externalizing disorders, even when adjusting for the association with individual disorders. The pattern of results did not change after excluding youth with bipolar disorder or with episodes of elated mood.


Clinically significant mood lability is relatively common in the community. Our findings indicate that mood lability is not a mere consequence of other psychopathology in that it is associated with significant impairment even in the absence of psychiatric diagnoses. Moreover, the pattern of association of mood lability with co-morbidity suggests that it could be a risk factor shared by both internalizing and externalizing disorders. Our data point to the need for greater awareness of mood lability and its implications for treatment.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr A. Stringaris, King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
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