Offspring of parents with mood disorders: time for more transgenerational research, screening and preventive intervention for this high-risk population

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2018 Jul;31(4):349-357. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000423.


Purpose of review: Offspring of parents with mood disorders (major depressive and bipolar disorder) are at increased risk for developing mood disorders. In this review, an overview regarding the intergenerational transmission of mood disorders, screening, and preventive intervention is given for this vulnerable group.

Recent findings: Offspring of parents with depression have a 40% chance of developing a depression, whereas offspring of parents with bipolar disorder have a 10% chance of developing a bipolar disorder by adulthood. Studies into the intergenerational transmission of mood disorders show that children of parents with mood disorders have increased biological dysregulation and neuropsychosocial impairments. Although there is a clear need for early identification of those at the highest risk, there are few systematic attempts in mental health care to screen children of parents with mood disorders. Lastly, preventive interventions seem to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms of children of parents with depression; however, those effects are small and short-lived.

Summary: Offspring of parents with mood disorders constitute a vulnerable group at high risk of mood disorders. More research needs to be conducted regarding mechanisms of the intergenerational transmission. Moreover, screening and preventive interventions for these offspring should be systematically evaluated and implemented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult Children / psychology
  • Bipolar Disorder* / genetics
  • Bipolar Disorder* / prevention & control
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / genetics
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pedigree
  • Preventive Psychiatry / methods
  • Risk Assessment / methods