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Onset of psychopathology in offspring by developmental phase and parental depression.

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New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, New York 10032, USA.



To determine the differential effects of parental major depression (MDD) on psychopathology of childhood, adolescent, and early-adult onset in offspring.


One hundred eighty-two offspring from 91 families in which one or more parents or neither parent had MDD were followed for more than 10 years and blindly reassessed by means of a structured diagnostic instrument.


Parental MDD is associated with increased risk in offspring of childhood-onset MDD (eightfold), anxiety disorder (threefold), conduct disorder (fivefold), and early-adult-onset MDD (fivefold) but not adolescent-onset MDD, where there is a marked increase in risk, particularly in girls, regardless of parental diagnosis. These findings were not explained by parental comorbidity, but the association with MDD was explained by parental age at onset of MDD--there was a 13-fold increase in childhood-onset MDD and a 7-fold increase in adult-onset MDD in offspring of parents with MDD of early (before age 30 years) onset.


Childhood- and early-adult-onset MDD may be etiologically homogeneous and familial subtypes. The reason for the high incidence of adolescent-onset MDD, particularly in girls, regardless of parental diagnosis, needs to be determined. The childhood offspring of depressed parents are a potential target for evaluation, especially when the parent had an early-onset depression.

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