Higher prevalence of depressed mood in immigrants' offspring reflects their social conditions in the host country: The HELIUS study

PLoS One. 2020 Jun 4;15(6):e0234006. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234006. eCollection 2020.


Background: Immigrants from low- and middle-income countries who have settled in high-income countries show higher risks of depression in comparison with host populations. The risks are associated with adverse social conditions. Indecisive results have been reported on the depression risks of the offspring of immigrant populations.

Objective: To assess the prevalence of depressed mood in immigrant offspring relative to the host population and to analyse whether that risk is explained by social conditions.

Methods: Cross-sectional data from the Dutch HELIUS study were analysed, involving 19,904 men and women of Dutch, South-Asian Surinamese, African Surinamese, Turkish or Moroccan ethnic descent aged 18 to 70. Depressive symptomatology was assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9). Indicators of social conditions were socioeconomic position (educational level, occupational level, employment status), perceived ethnic discrimination and sociocultural integration (ethnic identity, cultural orientation, social network). We used logistic regression to assess the risk of depressed mood (PHQ-9 sum score ≥10) in immigrants' offspring, as well as in first generation immigrants, relative to the risk in the host population. Social indicators were stepwise added to the model.

Results: The prevalence of depressed mood was 13% to 20% among immigrant offspring, with the lowest level for those of African Surinamese descent; prevalence in the Dutch origin population was 7%. Relative risk of depressed mood, expressed as average marginal effects (AMEs), decreased substantially in all offspring groups after adjustment for socioeconomic indicators and discrimination. E.g. the AME of Turkish vs. Dutch decreased from 0.11 (0.08-0.13) to 0.05 (0.03-0.08). Patterns resembled those in first generation immigrants.

Conclusions: Results suggest that the observed higher prevalence of depressed mood in immigrants' offspring will decline to the level of the host population as the various populations grow closer in terms of socioeconomic position and as immigrant offspring cease to experience discrimination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Conditions
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult