Background. There is a large literature indicating that the offspring of mothers with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) are at increased risk for depression. However, much less is known about the effects of paternal MDD on offspring psychopathology.
Method. We addressed this issue using a large community sample of parents and their adolescent and young adult offspring (n=775). Parents and offspring were independently assessed with semi-structured diagnostic interviews. Offspring were interviewed three times from mid-adolescence to age 24 years.
Results. Maternal MDD was significantly associated with offspring MDD. Paternal MDD was also significantly associated with MDD in offspring, but only among offspring with depressive episodes of moderate or greater severity. These effects persisted after controlling for socio-economic status, family intactness, and non-mood disorders in both parents. Rates of MDD were particularly elevated in offspring of mothers and fathers with early-onset MDD, and offspring of fathers with recurrent MDD. The magnitude of the associations between MDD in parents and offspring was generally in the small-to-medium range.
Conclusions. These results confirm previous findings of elevated risk of MDD in the offspring of depressed mothers. In addition, the results suggest that MDD in fathers is associated with increased risk of depression in offspring, but that it is limited to MDD episodes in offspring of moderate or greater severity.