Open Access Open Badges Research article

The association between parental history of diagnosed mood/anxiety disorders and psychiatric symptoms and disorders in young adult offspring

Nancy CP Low1*, Erika Dugas2, Evelyn Constantin3, Igor Karp24, Daniel Rodriguez5 and Jennifer O’Loughlin246

Author affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, 1033 Pine Avenue West, Montréal, QC, H3A 1A1, Canada

2 Centre de Recherche de Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, 3875 Saint Urbain, Montréal, QC, H2W 1V1, Canada

3 Department of Pediatrics, McGill University, Montreal Children’s Hospital, 2300 Tupper Street, Room C-538E, Montréal, QC, H3H 1P3, Canada

4 Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Montréal, 7171 Parc Avenue, Montréal, QC, Canada

5 Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Alpert Medical School, Brown University, The Miriam Hospital, Coro West, Suite 309, 164 Summit Avenue, Providence, RI, 02906, USA

6 Institut national de santé publique du Québec, 190 Crémazie Blvd. East, Montréal, QC, H2P 1E2, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:188  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-188

Published: 5 November 2012



Parental history of mood or anxiety disorders is one of the strongest and most consistent risk factors for the development of these disorders in offspring. Gaps remain however in our knowledge of whether maternal or paternal disorders are more strongly associated with offspring disorders, and whether the association exists in non-clinical samples. This study uses a large population-based sample to test if maternal or paternal history of mood and/or anxiety disorders increases the risk of mood and/or anxiety disorders, or symptoms of specific anxiety disorders, in offspring.


Data were drawn from the Nicotine Dependence in Teens Study, a prospective cohort investigation of 1293 grade 7 students. Data on mental health outcomes were collected in mailed self-report questionnaires when participants were aged 20.4 (0.7) years on average. Parental data were collected in mailed self-report questionnaires. This current analysis pertains to 564 participants with maternal and/or paternal data. The association between maternal and paternal history and each of diagnosed anxiety disorder, diagnosed mood disorder, and symptoms of specific anxiety disorders in offspring was studied in multivariate logistic regression.


A higher proportion of mothers than fathers had a diagnosed mood/anxiety disorder (23% versus 12%). Similarly, 14% of female offspring had a diagnosed mood/anxiety disorder, compared to 6% of male offspring. The adjusted odds ratio (95% confidence interval) for maternal history was 2.2 (1.1, 4.5) for diagnosed mood disorders, 4.0 (2.1, 7.8) for diagnosed anxiety disorders, and 2.2 (1.2, 4.0) for social phobia symptoms. Paternal history was not associated with any of the mental health outcomes in offspring.


Maternal, but not paternal mood/anxiety disorders were associated with diagnosed psychiatric disorders, as well as symptoms of specific anxiety disorders, in offspring. Efforts to detect mood and anxiety disorders in offspring with a maternal history should be encouraged.

Familial risk; Parental history; Offspring; Psychiatric; Mood; Anxiety; Panic