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Longitudinal study tracks depression and anxiety in children of depressed parents from childhood to adult life

29 January 2024

Young people with a depressed parent are more likely to suffer with depression and anxiety themselves.

The transition period from adolescence to adult life is a common risk period for the onset of depression and anxiety. However, relatively few studies have followed the offspring of depressed parents from childhood to adulthood across this transition.

Researchers at the Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health have undertaken a longitudinal study following the children of depressed parents from childhood to adult life, with a focus on depression and anxiety.

Dr Victoria Powell, a lead on the study, said:  “To our knowledge, this is the first UK longitudinal study to track depression and anxiety in the offspring of depressed parents from childhood to adult life using multiple assessment timepoints.”

Using four phases of assessments, the study followed 337 offspring of depressed parents aged 9 to 17 at the beginning of the study for 13 years. The researchers investigated how common depression and anxiety were in this group and characteristics of the course of these disorders, including the age at which they onset. They also assessed social functioning and impairment in early adult life and investigated the impact of prior and current depression and anxiety on this.

The study found that depression and anxiety were substantially more common in this sample of children of depressed parents compared to reports from the general population. There was an extended period of risk for onset of anxiety and depression spanning childhood to early adulthood.

Dr Powell added: “The transition from adolescence to adulthood was a key risk period for onset of depression and anxiety, especially in males. The young people demonstrated poor social outcomes in early adult life, with over half of them reporting impairment in their daily functioning. Impairment in adult life was associated with both prior and current depression and anxiety.”

“The findings suggest that incorporating family history of depression into routine clinical assessments may help to identify young people who should be considered for early intervention and support, which may help to reduce risk of poor adult outcomes.”
Dr Victoria Powell Research Associate, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

The paper, Following the children of depressed parents from childhood to adult life: a focus on mood and anxiety disorders, is published in the JCPP Advances at https://doi.org/10.1002/jcv2.12182

The Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health are currently running a clinical trial aiming to prevent or reduce depression in young people who have a parent with a history of depression. The Skills for Adolescent WELLbeing (SWELL) study is looking for parents who have experienced low mood or depression and have a child aged 13 to 17.  

Find out more about the study here and if you’re interested in taking part, let us know by completing this quick form.

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We are looking for parents with a history of depression, who have a child aged between 13-19 years to take part in the Skills for Adolescent Wellbeing study.