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J Affect Disord. 2009 Feb;113(1-2):56-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2008.04.023. Epub 2008 Jun 17.

Characteristics of depressed and nondepressed adult offspring of depressed and matched nondepressed parents.

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  • 1Center for Health Care Evaluation, Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA.



Our aim was to compare adults who were depressed or nondepressed offspring of depressed or matched nondepressed parents on functioning.


Participants were adult children of depressed (n=143) or nondepressed (n=197) parents who participated in a larger study. They completed self-report measures of depression symptoms, medical conditions and pain, family and social functioning, life stressors and coping, and help used for mental health problems.


In the depressed-parent group, depressed offspring had poorer personal functioning than did nondepressed offspring. Factors associated with offspring depressed status were being unmarried and having a diagnosed medical condition, more severe pain, a more severe recent stressor, and more reliance on emotional discharge coping. In the nondepressed-parent offspring, factors associated with depressed status were more disability, family disagreements and disorganization, negative events, and reliance on emotional discharge coping. Depressed offspring of depressed parents had more severe depression than depressed offspring of nondepressed parents; they also had more medical conditions, pain, disability, and severe stressors and, accordingly, relied more on approach coping. In contrast, nondepressed offspring of depressed or nondepressed parents were quite similar on functioning.


Measures were self-report and participants were not followed continuously.


Because parental depression increased the risk of impairment among depressed offspring, family history should be considered in the treatment of depression. Offspring of depressed parents who are not experiencing depression are often able to maintain normal functioning in adulthood.

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