Family discord, parental depression, and psychopathology in offspring: ten-year follow-up

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2002 Apr;41(4):402-9. doi: 10.1097/00004583-200204000-00012.


Objective: To determine the independent effects of parental depression and family discord on psychopathology in offspring at high and low risk for major depression.

Method: One hundred eighty-two offspring of depressed or nondepressed parents were followed over 10 years. In direct interviews, parents' and offspring's psychopathology was evaluated by raters blind to parents' clinical status. Five dimensions of family discord-poor marital adjustment, parent-child discord, low family cohesion, affectionless control, and parental divorce-were assessed.

Results: Offspring exposed to either parental depression or family discord had higher rates of psychopathology than their counterparts. High-risk offspring had few family discord measures associated with their psychopathology; in low-risk offspring, family discord was associated with all offspring diagnoses. Between the two risk factors, parental depression proved a more important predictor for offspring major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety disorder, whereas family discord was a more important predictor for substance use disorder.

Conclusions: Parental depression is a strong and consistent risk factor for offspring MDD and anxiety disorder. Without parental depression, offspring have less exposure to family discord and lower rates of psychopathology. In the presence of family discord, rates of MDD, anxiety disorder and substance use disorder increased. When offspring matured into young adulthood, effects of parental depression and family discord persisted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Child
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology*