New research discovers a multi-generational family history of major depressive disorder appears to increase the risk that grandchildren will develop depression.
Investigators found that having both parents and grandparents with major depressive disorder (MDD) was associated with higher risk of MDD for grandchildren. This knowledge may help to identify those who may benefit from early intervention, say the researchers.
The study appears online in JAMA Psychiatry.
It is well-established that having depressed parents increases children’s risk of psychiatric disorders. But there are no published studies of depression examining three generations with grandchildren in the age of risk for depression and with direct interviews of all family members.
Myrna M. Weissman, Ph.D., of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, studied 251 grandchildren (average age 18), their parents and grandparents. Grandchildren were interviewed an average of two times and their biological parents were interviewed an average of nearly five times. Grandparents were also interviewed.
When first comparing two generations, the study suggests grandchildren with depressed parents had twice the risk of MDD compared with nondepressed parents, as well as increased risk for disruptive disorder, substance dependence, suicidal ideation or gesture, and poorer functioning.
Comparing three generations, the authors reported grandchildren with both a depressed parent and depressed grandparent had three times the risk of MDD.
Children without a depressed grandparent but with a depressed parent had overall worse functioning than children without a depressed parent.
Limitations of the study include its small sample size and a potential lack of generalizability because of its makeup.
“In this study, biological offspring with two previous generations affected with major depression were at highest risk for major depression, suggesting the potential value of determining family history of depression in children and adolescents beyond two generations. Early intervention in offspring of two generations affected with moderate to severely impairing MDD seems warranted,” the study concluded.