Family history linked to depressive disorders

April 22, 2021
Miranda Hester

Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.

Family health history can serve as a warning for a patient’s current physical health issues. A report indicates that it may also be helpful with mental health issues.

With physical health, it has long been understood that family history plays a role in a person’s health status. The link between familial mental health and a person’s risk of mental health issues is less understood. A report in JAMA Psychiatry presents some needed information.1

Investigators analyzed Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study data, retrospective, cross-sectional reports on the psychiatric function among children (G3) as well as parental reports on the parents’ and grandparents’ depression histories. They created 4 risk categories to reflect which prior generations had a history of depression: (1) neither grandparents (G1) nor parents (G2) (G1−/G2−), (2) only G1 (G1+/G2−), (3) only G2 (G1−/G2+), and (4) both G1 and G2 (G1+/G2+).

There were 11,200 children included in the study who were an average of 9.9 years. Using the parent reports, the weighted prevalence of depressive order in the children was children was 3.8% (95% CI, 3.2-4.3) for G1−/G2− children, 5.5% (95% CI, 4.3-7.1) for G1+/G2− children, 10.4% (95% CI, 8.6-12.6) for G1−/G2+ children, and 13.3% (95% CI, 11.6-15.2) for G1+/G2+ children (Cochran-Armitage trend = 243.77; P < .001). Additionally, the weighted suicidal behavior prevalence was 5.0% (95% CI, 4.5-5.6) for G1−/G2− children, 7.2% (95% CI, 5.8-8.9) for G1+/G2− children, 12.1% (95% CI, 10.1-14.4) for G1−/G2+ children, and 15.0% (95% CI, 13.2-17.0) for G1+/G2+ children (Cochran-Armitage trend = 188.66; P < .001). When using the reports from children, the investigators found that the weighted prevalence of suicidal behaviors was 7.4% (95% CI, 6.7-8.2) for G1−/G2− children, 7.0% (95% CI, 5.6-8.6) for G1+/G2− children, 9.8% (95% CI, 8.1-12.0) for G1−/G2+ children, and 13.8% (95% CI, 12.1-15.8) for G1+/G2+ children (Cochran-Armitage trend = 46.69; P < .001) and the prevalence of depressive disorders was 4.8% (95% CI, 4.3-5.5) for G1−/G2− children, 4.3% (95% CI, 3.2-5.7) for G1+/G2− children, 6.3% (95% CI, 4.9-8.1) for G1−/G2+ children, and 7.0% (95% CI, 5.8-8.5) for G1+/G2+ children (Cochran-Armitage trend = 9.01; P = .002).

The investigators concluded that having multiple previous generations who were affected by depression was linked to an increased risk of childhood psychopathology. Importantly, the findings were possible to detect at prepubertal ages and were found in diverse socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups. They believe that their findings emphasize the need to include family mental health history when screening in the pediatric office.


1. van Dijk M, Murphy E, Posner J, Talati A, Weissman M. Association of multigenerational family history of depression with lifetime depressive and other psychiatric disorders in children: results from the adolescent brain cognitive development (ABCD) study. JAMA Psychiatry. April 21, 2021. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.0350