Intergenerational Transmission of Depression Among Australian 15-Year-Olds

Interpersonal stress may be a risk factor for depression among the offspring of depressed women. Hammen, Shih, and Brennan (2004) tested the following hypotheses concerning depression among 816 Australian 15-year-olds whose mothers had been assessed for depression several times since their pregnancies with the children: (a) Maternal depression (and depression in the maternal grandmothers) contributes to chronic interpersonal stress in the mothers; (b) this stress affects the quality of the mothers’ parenting and their children’s social competence; (c) poor social functioning and interpersonal life events caused at least in part by the children are proximal predictors of the children’s depressive symptoms.

Structural equation modeling of multiple measures of the mothers’ functioning and their children’s social competence and depression (including the CBCL and YSR) indicated that “the association between maternal and child depression was entirely mediated by the predicted family and interpersonal stress effects” (p. 511). Genetic factors may also contribute to the emergence of adult depressive disorders. However, the authors suggested “that although parental depressive episodes may be transitory, enduring family difficulties and youth social competence may be important targets for intervention” (p. 520).

Reference: Hammen, C., Shih, J.H., & Brennan, P.A. (2004). Intergenerational transmission of depression: Test of an interpersonal stress model in a community sample. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 511-522.