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.
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.
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.
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.