Depression Casts Shadow over Three Generations: Grandchildren of Depressed Individuals Have a Higher Rate of Anxiety Disorder before Puberty

By Sherman, Carl | Clinical Psychiatry News, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Depression Casts Shadow over Three Generations: Grandchildren of Depressed Individuals Have a Higher Rate of Anxiety Disorder before Puberty


Sherman, Carl, Clinical Psychiatry News


NEW YORK -- The children of depressed parents are at increased risk of depression themselves, with anxiety symptoms usually the earliest signs of psychopathology, often appearing before puberty, according to a multigenerational study reported by Myrna Weissman, Ph.D., at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

In the following generation, the incidence of psychopathology, even at an early age, is extremely high in children with both a depressed parent and grandparent, said Dr. Weissman of Columbia University, New York.

Numerous studies have documented the familial transmission of major depressive disorder in adult first degree relatives, and have shown that the familial form is particularly likely to begin in childhood or adolescence. Studies of children with depressed parents show an incidence of early onset mood disorder three times as high as in those with nondepressed parents.

Earlier research also has suggested that anxiety disorders may be the first form of psychopathology to appear in such children, but whether this represents an early sign of depression or a predisposition to the disorder is unclear, Dr. Weissman said.

The current study, which began in the late 1970s, aimed to explore the timing, sequence, and familial transmission of major depressive disorder across generations. It compared the children and grandchildren of depressed individuals with those of a sample, drawn from the same community, without mental illness.

At baseline and 2, 10, and 17 years after entrance into the study, members of both groups were assessed with the adult Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (SADS) scale, the SADS for children, and direct and informant interviews, by trained interviewers blind to the clinical status of all previous generations. Final diagnoses were made by similarly blinded psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, she noted. …

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