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Psychopathology. 2010;43(5):312-8. doi: 10.1159/000319400. Epub 2010 Jul 28.

Family environment and pediatric major depressive disorder.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, Tex., USA.



The risks for depression broadly include biological and environmental factors. Furthermore, having a family member suffering from major depression is also likely to have consequences for the family environment. Further research aimed at understanding the effects of having a child with major depression on family interaction patterns is warranted.


We studied 31 families with an 8- to 17-year-old child (mean age +/- SD = 12.9 +/- 2.7 years) who met the DSM-IV criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD) and 34 families with no mentally ill children (mean age +/- SD = 12.6 +/- 2.9 years) or parents. Children and their parents were assessed with the K-SADS-PL (Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia--Present and Lifetime Version) interview. Parents completed the Moos Family Environment Scale (FES) to assess their perceptions of current family functioning. Data were analyzed using the nonparametric Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test.


Families of MDD children showed significantly different patterns of family functioning on FES subscales representing relationships and personal growth dimensions. The families with MDD children showed higher levels of conflict (p < 0.001) and lower levels of cohesion (p < 0.001), expressiveness (p = 0.003) and active-recreational orientation (p = 0.02) compared to the families without mentally ill children.


Families with MDD children show a lower degree of commitment, provide less support to one another, provide less encouragement to express feelings and have more conflicts compared to families with no mentally ill children or parents. Interventions aimed at improving family dynamics may be beneficial to MDD children and their families.

Copyright 2010 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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