Family functioning as perceived by parents and young offspring at high and low risk for depression

Shimrit Daches, Vera Vine, Kathryn M. Layendecker, Charles J. George, Maria Kovacs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background Family dysfunction has been proposed as one of the environmental mechanisms whereby risk of depression is transmitted from mothers to their children. Using our sample of offspring at high and low familial risk for depression, we hypothesized that: a) high-risk offspring (n = 79) and their mothers will report more extensive family dysfunction than low-risk offspring (n = 82) and their mothers, b) family dysfunction will predict the extent of offspring's depressive symptoms, and c) family dysfunction will mediate the impact of mother's depression on offspring's depressive symptoms. Methods The study enrolled 161 offspring of parents who, in a previous study, were ascertained to have either childhood onset mood disorder or no history of a major psychiatric disorder. Parents completed questionnaires and a clinical interview about themselves, their offspring, and the family, while offspring also completed questionnaires about themselves and the family. Results We found support for all three hypotheses. The significant indirect effect between maternal depression and offspring depressive symptoms was driven primarily by offspring's, but not mothers’, reports of family dysfunction. Limitations Although our assessment of mother's early history of depression was done in a previous study, it is important to note that our results do not inform about causality because of the present study's cross-sectional nature. Conclusions The results highlight the importance of detecting and treating family dysfunction, particularly via offspring report, as one way to lower the risk of depression transmission from mothers to their children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-360
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


This work is part of the ‘Psychiatric outcomes of children at high- and low-risk for depression: Follow-up’ study and is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health ( RO1 MH - 085722 ).

FundersFunder number
National Institute of Mental HealthRO1 MH - 085722, T32MH018951


    • Family functioning
    • High-risk for depression
    • Maternal depression
    • Offspring
    • Transmission mechanisms


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