Family History of Psychiatric Conditions Raises Risk for Childhood Psychopathology

sad child
sad child
The researchers asked this question: Does having multiple prior generations affected by depression increase risk of psychopathology in children, and can it be reliably measured in large, diverse samples using informant-reported family history?

Family history was found to be significantly associated with childhood psychopathology, according to the results of a retrospective cross-sectional study. These findings were published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study version 2.01 (2019) were analyzed by researchers at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Children (N=11,200) and parents were recruited from 22 primary and public school system sites in the United States. Family history of first- and second-degree relatives for 9 psychiatric disorders was gathered and children were assessed with the self-administered Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (KSADS).c

Of the children, 47.8% were girls with a mean age of 9.9 (standard deviation [SD], 0.6) years.

Children were stratified on the basis of familial history of psychiatric disorders in which neither a grandparent nor a parent had a history of a psychiatric disorder (G1-/G2-; 58.2%), a grandparent had a history and a parent did not (G1+/G2-; 12.2%), a grandparent did not and a parent did (G1-/G2+; 11.3%), or both grandparent and parent had a history (G1+/G2+; 18.2%).

There was little agreement between parent and child reporting (k range, 0.03-0.20).

According to the parents, depressive disorders, suicidal behaviors, and major depressive disorders were present among 13.3%, 15.0%, and 7.4% of G1+/G2+ children; 10.4%, 12.1%, and 4.9% of G1-/G2+; 5.5%, 7.2%, and 2.3% for G1+/G2- children, and 3.8%, 5.0%, and 1.2% for G1-/G2- children (all P <.001).

According to children, depressive disorders and suicidal behaviors were present among 7.0% and 13.8% of G1+/G2+ children, 6.3% and 9.8% of G1-/G2+, 4.3% and 7.0% for G1+/G2-, and 4.8% and 7.4% for G1-/G2- children (P =.002; P <.001), respectively.

In parent reports, boys tended to have higher rates of suicidal behaviors (11.4% vs 6.3%) and of any disorder (32.9% vs 28.3%). Children with the lowest socioeconomic status when compared with middle or highest status had higher rates of any disorder (10.1% vs 5.4% vs 5.7%).

Children who were Hispanic had higher rates of depressive disorders (9.1%) than White children (6.5%), but White children had higher rates of anxiety disorders (13.1%) than Hispanic children (10.2%).

Significant associations were confirmed by both parent and child reporting between depressive disorders and socioeconomic status (parent: c2, 38.9; P <.001; child: c2, 15.0; P <.01) and ethnicity (parent: c2, 13.5; P <.01; child: c2, 33.4; P <.001). No associations between demographics were confirmed for anxiety disorders, suicidal behaviors, or all psychiatric disorders using both parent- and child-reported data.

This study was likely limited by the high parent-child discrepancy for psychiatric disorders.

These data indicated that children with a family history of psychiatric conditions tended to have a higher likelihood of presenting with psychopathology.

Disclosure: Some authors declared affiliations with industry. Please refer to the original article for a full list of disclosures.


van Dijk MT, Murphy E, Posner JE, Talati A, Weissman MM. 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. Published online April 21, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.0350