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J Affect Disord. 2009 Apr;114(1-3):74-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2008.08.006. Epub 2008 Sep 24.

Chronic stress and stressful life events in the offspring of parents with bipolar disorder.

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  • 1Centre for Research in Human Development, Concordia University, Montreal, Qc, Canada.



The stress generation theory suggests that depressed individuals and children of depressed mothers are prone to create stressors that are interpersonal and dependent on their own behaviour. Exposure to "self-generated" stress is believed to increase the risk for onset and recurrence of depression. Much less is known about stress in the offspring of parents with bipolar disorder (OBD).


As part of a longitudinal study, 37 OBD and 33 offspring of parents with no affective disorder (13 to 26 years old) were interviewed using the UCLA Life Stress Interview, assessing their current life circumstances (chronic stress) and recent negative life events (episodic stress).


The OBD reported more difficulties in interpersonal and non-interpersonal domains of chronic stress than controls. The group differences remained significant after controlling for the presence of affective disorders, indicating that the effect of risk status on chronic stress is independent of the problems associated with having a disorder. With respect to episodic stress, the OBD were 3.9 times more likely to have experienced a moderate to severe interpersonal stressor compared to the control group. There was no group difference for dependent events, but the OBD experienced more severe independent events than controls.


Methodological limitations include a small sample size, large age range, and the absence of parent-reported stress and symptomatology.


Although the findings do not support the stress generation theory, they suggest that elevated levels of episodic and chronic stress may be important markers of risk for affective disorders in high-risk participants.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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