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BACKGROUND: The impact of underlying parental psychological vulnerability on the future mental health of offspring is not fully understood. Using a prospective cohort design, we investigated the association between dysfunctional parental personality traits and risks of offspring self-harm, depression and anxiety.
METHODS: The association between dysfunctional parental personality traits (monotony avoidance, impulsivity, anger, suspicion, and detachment), measured in both mothers and fathers when offspring were age 9 years, and risk of offspring depression, anxiety and self-harm at age 18 years, was investigated in a population-based cohort (ALSPAC) from over 8000 parents and children.
RESULTS: Higher levels of dysfunctional maternal, but not paternal, personality traits were associated with an increased risk of self-harm, depression, and anxiety in offspring. Maternal associations were best explained by the accumulation of dysfunctional traits. Associations were strongest for offspring depression: Offspring of mothers with three or more dysfunctional personality traits were 2.27 (1.45-3.54, p < 0.001) times as likely to be depressed, compared with offspring of mothers with no dysfunctional personality traits, independently of maternal depression and other variables.
CONCLUSIONS: The accumulation of dysfunctional maternal personality traits is associated with the risk of self-harm, depression, anxiety in offspring independently of maternal depression and other confounding variables. The absence of associations for equivalent paternal traits makes a genetic explanation for the findings unlikely. Further research is required to elucidate the underlying mechanism. Mothers with high levels of dysfunctional personality traits may benefit from additional support to reduce the risk of adverse psychological outcomes occurring in their offspring.
- Bristol Population Health Science Institute
- mental Health