Raj Persaud in conversation - the podcasts
Why are the children of depressed parents more likely to die earlier and from unnatural causes?

Dr Raj Persaud talks to Professor Myrna Weissman about what happens to the children of depressed people

HEADLINE FINDING OF THIS MAJOR NEW STUDY:

There was increased mortality in the children whose parents had serious depression (5.5% compared with 2.5%) due to unnatural causes, with a nearly 8-year difference in the mean age at death (38.8 years compared with 46.5 years in the control group - children of parents without depression).

 

From The American Journal of Psychiatry Volume 173, Issue 10, October 01, 2016, pp. 1024-1032

 

Offspring of Depressed Parents: 30 Years Later

 

Myrna M. Weissman, Ph.D., Priya Wickramaratne, Ph.D., Marc J. Gameroff, Ph.D., Virginia Warner, Dr.P.H., Daniel Pilowsky, M.D., M.P.H., Rajni Gathibandhe Kohad, M.D., M.P.H., Helena Verdeli, Ph.D., Jamie Skipper, M.A., Ardesheer Talati, Ph.D.

 

While the increased risk of psychological problems in the biological offspring of depressed parents has been widely studied and replicated, the long-term outcome through their full age of risk is less known. The authors present a 30-year follow-up of biological offspring (mean age=47 years) of depressed (high-risk) and nondepressed (low-risk) parents.

One hundred forty-seven offspring of moderately to severely depressed or non-depressed parents selected from the same community were followed for up to 30 years.

The risk for major depression was approximately three times as high in the high-risk offspring. The period of highest risk for first onset was between ages 15 and 25 in both groups. Pre-pubertal onsets were uncommon, but high-risk offspring had over 10-fold increased risk. The increased rates of major depression in the high-risk group were largely accounted for by the early onsets, but later recurrences in the high-risk group were significantly increased. The high-risk offspring continue to have overall poorer functioning and receive more treatment for emotional problems. There was increased mortality in the high-risk group (5.5% compared with 2.5%) due to unnatural causes, with a nearly 8-year difference in the mean age at death (38.8 years compared with 46.5 years).

The authors of the study conclude that the offspring of depressed parents remain at high risk for depression, morbidity, and mortality that persists into their middle years. While adolescence is the major period of onset for major depression in both risk groups, it is the offspring with family history who go on to have recurrences and a poor outcome as they mature. In the era of personalized medicine, until a more biologically based understanding of individual risk is found, a simple family history assessment of major depression as part of clinical care can be a predictor of individuals at long-term risk.