A child may have a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder if his or her parent of the same sex has an anxiety disorder, according to a study published this week in JAMA Network Open.
“One of the strongest known risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder is having a parent with an anxiety disorder, an effect that increases with [two] parents being affected,” wrote Barbara Pavlova, Ph.D., of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and colleagues. “[I]f the contribution of the same-sex parent with a disorder is greater, it may suggest that modeling and vicarious learning from the same-sex parent play a role in the transmission.”
Pavlova and colleagues interviewed families participating in the Families Overcoming Risks and Building Opportunities for Well-Being study, a cohort study that recruited families with at least one parent with a mood disorder. All families had one or more offspring between the ages of 5 and 21. The authors assessed parents for psychiatric disorders using the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia and the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-5 Disorders (SCID-5). The offspring were assessed for psychiatric disorders using the Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia, as well as the SCID-5.
In total, 398 offspring of 221 mothers and 237 fathers participated, and both biological parents of 231 offspring completed the interviews. Diagnoses among the parents included major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders in the parents of the same sex as the offspring, but not in opposite-sex parents, was significantly associated with a lifetime diagnosis of anxiety disorders in the offspring. Additionally, sharing the household with a same-sex parent without anxiety, but not with an opposite-sex parent without anxiety, was associated with a decreased risk of anxiety disorders in the offspring.
Because mood and anxiety disorders in parents were often comorbid and associated with anxiety disorders in offspring, Pavlova and colleagues completed an analysis to determine the unique contributions of parent mood and anxiety disorders. When the researchers analyzed the data using major mood disorders and anxiety disorders as independent variables, they found that anxiety disorders in parents were significantly associated with increased rates of lifetime diagnoses of anxiety disorders in offspring, but mood disorders in parents were not.
“Based on our findings, compared with parental mood disorders, anxiety in parents appears to be more closely associated with anxiety in offspring,” the authors wrote. “Treating parents with anxiety disorders may protect their offspring, especially their same-sex offspring, from developing an anxiety disorder regardless of parental mood disorder.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Treating Family Members Can Break Depression Cycle, Says Expert.”
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