Mortality by diseases and medical conditions in the offspring of parents with severe mental illness

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2020 Dec;55(12):1649-1657. doi: 10.1007/s00127-019-01781-z. Epub 2019 Oct 22.


Purpose: The lifespan of people with severe mental illness (SMI) is shorter compared to the general population. There might be common familial pathway leading to a high co-occurrence of somatic disorders and SMI. To study this we explored the long-term mortality for natural causes in the offspring of people with SMI.

Methods: Participants were members of the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 (NFBC1966; N = 11,325). The data on cause of deaths of the members were obtained from the Population Register Center until year 2015. The data on hospital-treated psychiatric disorders of parents were obtained from nationwide Care Register for Health Care. Cumulative incidences by age were calculated in the NFBC1966 members having a parent with SMI and those who did not have. We were able to take into account multiple confounders.

Results: Of the total sample of 11,325 offspring, 853 (7.4%) died during the follow-up period, 74 (8.7%) from the study cohort and 779 (91.3%) from the comparison group. These numbers included 160 stillborn children. There were 557 cases of deaths from diseases and medical conditions and 296 deaths from external causes. The adjusted risk ratio for offspring of mothers with SMI was 1.08 (0.72-1.64), and for offspring of fathers with SMI 0.58 (0.36-0.93).

Conclusions: This was the first long-term follow-up study (up to age 49) of all-cause mortality in offspring of parents with SMI. Our findings were contrary to expectations. Offspring of parents with SMI had no increased risk for dying. In fact, the risk for dying in the group of offspring of fathers with SMI was lower than in the comparison group. This study does not support the assumption of common familial pathway leading to a high co-occurrence of somatic disorders and SMI.

Keywords: Bipolar disorder; Depression; Mortality; Natural causes; Offspring; Schizophrenia; Severe mental illness.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents*
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Parents