There is limited information on the specificity of associations between parental bipolar disorder (BPD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) and the risk of psychopathology in offspring. The chief aim of the present study was to investigate the association between mood disorder subtypes in the two parents and mental disorders in the offspring.
A total of 376 offspring (aged 6.0-17.9 years; mean=11.5years) of 72 patients with BPD (139 offspring), 56 patients with MDD (110 offspring), and 66 controls (127 offspring) participated in a family study conducted in two university hospital centers in Switzerland. Probands, offspring, and biological co-parents were interviewed by psychologists blind to proband diagnoses, using a semi-structured diagnostic interview.
Rates of mood and anxiety disorders were elevated among offspring of BPD probands (34.5% any mood; 42.5% any anxiety) and MDD probands (25.5% any mood; 44.6% any anxiety) as compared to those of controls (12.6% any mood; 22.8% any anxiety). Moreover, recurrent MDD was more frequent among offspring of BPD probands (7.9%) than those of controls (1.6%). Parental concordance for bipolar spectrum disorders was associated with a further elevation in the rates of mood disorders in offspring (64.3% both parents versus 27.2% one parent).
These findings provide unique information on the broad manifestations of parental mood disorders in their offspring. The earlier onset and increased risk of recurrent MDD in the offspring of parents with BPD compared to those of controls suggests that the episodicity characterizing BPD may emerge in childhood and adolescence.