Offspring at high and low risk for depression and anxiety: mechanisms of psychiatric disorder

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1995 Jun;34(6):786-97. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199506000-00020.


Objectives: To examine the effect of parental psychiatric diagnosis on the risk of psychiatric disorder in their offspring and to determine mediators and independent predictors of psychiatric disorder in offspring.

Method: The sample consisted of 145 offspring (between the ages of 6 and 24 years, who were directly interviewed) of probands with early-onset (before age 30 years) major depressive disorder (MDD) without panic, panic disorder with and without major depression, and a normal, never psychiatrically ill control group who were part of a large study conducted to determine the relationship between panic disorder and major depression.

Results: The risk for offspring MDD was increased by proband recurrent early-onset MDD and coparent alcohol abuse. Chaotic family environment was the only independent predictor of dysthymia. The risk for offspring "any anxiety" disorder was increased by proband recurrent early-onset MDD and coparent impaired functioning. The association between MDD in proband and "panic spectrum" disorder in offspring was accounted for by chaotic family environment.

Conclusion: Recurrent parental MDD has consistently been shown to be a strong risk factor for offspring MDD. Family environment plays an important role in low-level anxiety symptoms and dysthymia. Clinicians treating adults should be alert to risk factors for their offspring and to appropriate targets for early intervention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / genetics
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / genetics*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Panic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Panic Disorder / genetics*
  • Panic Disorder / psychology
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality Development*
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Environment*