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Children of Depressed Parents at Higher-Risk for Mental Disorders

June 1, 2006

Arlington, Va.  – Results from a 20-year study showing that children of depressed parents are at higher risk for psychiatric and medical problems are reported in the June issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

The long-term study demonstrates that the generational effect of depression continues into adulthood and is conducted by researchers at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.   The findings are described in the article, "Offspring of Depressed Parents: 20 Years Later" by Myrna M. Weissman, Ph.D., Daniel Pilowsky, M.D., M.P.H., et al.

The risks for anxiety disorders and major depression were approximately three times as high in children with at least one depressed parent, and their rate of phobias was four times as high. They also had higher rates of substance dependence and self-reported physical illness in mid- adulthood than children of non-depressed parents. Around 35-years-old, children of depressed parents reported higher incidence of cardiovascular disorders (five times as likely) and neuromuscular disorders (twice as likely) than those of non-depressed parents.

"This work highlights the significant life-long risk faced by children of a depressed parent. Efforts to improve treatment of depressed parents may thus have potential benefits that reach the next generation," said Robert Freedman, M.D., AJP editor-in-chief.

Major depressive disorder appeared between the ages of 15 and 20 years and there was a slight increase in new anxiety disorders among women between ages 28 and 32. By adulthood, children of depressed parents functioned more poorly at work and in their extended families.   Although 83 percent had experienced psychiatric disorders during their lifetimes, only 38 percent had received treatment for a mental illness.

Read the abstract of the report and access the full text.

Washington, DC station WJLA interviewed NAMI staff member Katrina Gay for their story on the report.  Read the article and view the video from