Parental depression increases risk of mental
illness in offspring
Previous “top-down” and “bottom-up” depression studies, studying the
offspring of depressed patients and the parents of depressed offspring,
respectively, have had weaknesses in selection criteria and have failed to
consider diagnostic comorbidities that might influence the results, says the
Therefore, Dr Roselind Lieb from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in
Munich, in collaboration with other German researchers, examined the
associations between depressive disorders, their natural course, other
psychopathology and parental major depression in a representative sample of
adolescents and young adults.
A total of 2,427 adolescents and young adults, for whom diagnostic information
about psychopathology in both parents was available, were followed for four
Psychiatric morbidity among the study participants was assessed using the
Munich-Composite International Diagnostic Interview and information on
depression in parents was collected by history taking.
For 51 per cent of the subjects studied, neither parent suffered from major
depression. In about 34 per cent, one parent suffered from major depression
and in 16 per cent both parents suffered from this condition.
Those adolescents and young adults with one or two affected parents appeared
to be at increased risk of depression. In terms of parental loading, having
one or two affected parents carried an equal risk of depression for offspring.
Parental depression was also associated with an earlier onset and a more
malignant course of depressive disorders in offspring.
Furthermore, parental depression was linked with other psychopathologies in
offspring, such as anxiety, substance abuse and bipolar disorder.
Which parent suffered from depression did not appear to affect the results,
The researchers said their findings suggested that specific prevention and
intervention efforts are needed for high-risk offspring.
“The early detection of mental health problems in offspring of depressed
parents seems to be crucial, as this would allow the treatment of early
manifestations of mental problems before they cause clinical impairment,”
wrote the study authors in Archives of General Psychiatry.
Reference: Lieb et al, Archives of General Psychiatry 2002;59:365-374
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