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Parental history of psychiatric diagnoses and unipolar depression: a Danish National Register-based cohort study

  • K. L. Musliner (a1), B. B. Trabjerg (a2), B. L. Waltoft (a2), T. M. Laursen (a2), P. B. Mortensen (a2), P. P. Zandi (a1) and T. Munk-Olsen (a2)...



Depression is known to run in families, but the effects of parental history of other psychiatric diagnoses on depression rates are less well studied. Few studies have examined the impact of parental psychopathology on depression rates in older age groups.


We established a population-based cohort including all individuals born in Denmark after 1954 and alive on their 10th birthday (N = 29 76 264). Exposure variables were maternal and paternal history of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety or ‘other’ psychiatric diagnoses. Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) were estimated using Poisson regressions.


Parental history of any psychiatric diagnosis increased incidence rates of outpatient (maternal: IRR 1.88, p < 0.0001; paternal: IRR 1.68, p < 0.0001) and inpatient (maternal: IRR 1.99, p < 0.0001; paternal: IRR 1.83, p < 0.0001) depression relative to no parental history. IRRs for parental history of non-affective disorders remained relatively stable across age groups, while IRRs for parental affective disorders (unipolar or bipolar) decreased with age from 2.29–3.96 in the youngest age group to 1.53–1.90 in the oldest group. IRR estimates for all parental diagnoses were similar among individuals aged ⩾41 years (IRR range 1.51–1.90).


Parental history of any psychiatric diagnosis is associated with increased incidence rates of unipolar depression. In younger age groups, parental history of affective diagnoses is more strongly associated with rates of unipolar depression than non-affective diagnoses; however, this distinction disappears after age 40, suggesting that parental psychopathology in general, rather than any one disorder, confers risk for depression in middle life.


Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: K. L. Musliner, MPH, Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Hampton House, Room 780, 624 N. Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA. (Email:


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