Life Course Challenges Faced by Siblings of Individuals with Schizophrenia May Increase Risk for Depressive Symptoms

Ment Health Fam Med. 2016;12(1):147-151. doi: 10.25149/1756-8358.1201003.


Background: Research suggests siblings of individuals with schizophrenia are at a heightened risk for depressive symptomatology. Research has not yet examined whether the strains of growing up with a brother or sister with schizophrenia contribute to this risk. This study examined whether early life course burdens associated with an emerging mental illness, and current objective and subjective caregiver burden predicted depressive symptoms in siblings of individuals with schizophrenia.

Method: Forty-one siblings of individuals with schizophrenia were recruited from a large study of schizophrenia neurobiology to complete a self-administered questionnaire and a neuropsychological test battery.

Results: Early life course burdens and current objective and subjective burdens explained incremental variance in depressive symptoms of siblings of individuals with schizophrenia after accounting for gender and global neurocognitive function. Higher levels of depressive symptoms among siblings were associated with perceptions of being stigmatized by the community (β=.37, p<.01), and perceiving that the brother or sister's emerging illness negatively impacted the sibling's social life during childhood and adolescence (β=.39, p<.01). Taking on adult responsibilities while the sibling was growing up was found to be protective against depressive symptoms in adulthood (β= -.36, p<.01).

Conclusions: Early life course burdens associated with having a sibling with schizophrenia and current subjective burden provide insight into psychosocial factors that may contribute to the risk for depression in this sibling group. Mental health service providers and psychoeducation programs would benefit by considering these factors when developing family-based interventions.

Keywords: Burden; Depression; Schizophrenia; Siblings.