Familygenetic vulnerability

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The offspring of depressed parents are at greatly increased risk of depression, especially in childhood and early adult life (Wickramaratne & Weissman, 1998). Many other forms of psychopathology are increased among these children (Wickramaratne & Weissman, 1998), and they are also at increased risk of medical problems (Kramer et al., 1998). Several prospective longitudinal studies have suggested that these increased risks extend for many years (Beardslee et al., 1993; Hammen, 1991; Weissman et al., 1997). For example, Weissman and her colleagues (Weissman et al., 1997) evaluated the effects of parental depression on offspring over a 10-year period. High rates of depression, panic disorder, and alcoholism were found among the children.

There is evidence that affective disorders in adults have a genetic component. Genetic influences seem strongest for bipolar disorders (McGuffin & Katz, 1986), but unipolar major depressions also show significant heritability (Kendler et al., 1993), as do seasonal affective disorders (Madden et al., 1996). There have thus far been no large systematic twin or adoption studies of depressive disorder in young people. There is, however, evidence from twin studies of modest genetic influences on depressive symptoms in late childhood and adolescence (Eaves et al., 1997; Thapar & McGuffin, 1994), though this has not been replicated in adoption studies (Eley et al., 1998). Twin studies also suggest that some of the stability in depressive symptoms arises from genetic factors (O'Connor et al., 1998).

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