Jan. 3, 2001 Washington, D.C. - There are significant associations between the presence of panic disorder and major depression on parents and patterns of dysfunction in their children, according to a study in the January 2001 American Journal of Psychiatry.
The purpose of the study was to evaluate whether an underlying familial predisposition is shared by all anxiety disorders or whether specific risks are associated with specific disorders. The study also sought to determine whether panic disorder and major depression have a familial link.
Lead author Joseph Biederman, M.D., a psychiatrist in the clinical psychopharmacology unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, says the outcome of the study showed support for the idea that children are at high risk of manifesting emotional and behavioral difficulties if the parent has depression or anxiety disorders. "The presence of depression in families has quite a major impact in the offspring," Biederman says.
The study compared four groups: children of parents with panic disorder and comorbid depression, children of parents with panic disorder without comorbid depression, children of parents with major depression without comorbid panic disorder, and children of parents with neither panic disorder nor depression.
Results showed that parental panic disorder, regardless of comorbidity with major depression, was associated with an increased risk for panic disorder and agoraphobia in children. Parental depression, regardless of comorbidity with panic disorder, was associated with increased risks for social phobia, major depression, disruptive behavior disorders and poorer social functioning in children.
Meanwhile, both parental panic disorder and parental depression, individually or comorbidly, were associated with increased risk for separation anxiety disorder and multiple anxiety disorders in children.
The correlation of these parental and child disorders is particularly important to note, Biederman says, because in many communities there are no child services. For this reason, he says, at-risk children may only be identified as such if clinicians treating adult patients are aware of this possibility. "It is a matter of being aware," he says. "Recognizing that children at a very young age can be at high-risk for emotional distress can go a long way toward doing something for them early in life."
The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society, founded in 1844, whose 40,000 physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
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