The impact of various parental mental disorders on children's diagnoses: a systematic review

Floor van Santvoort, Clemens M H Hosman, Jan M A M Janssens, Karin T M van Doesum, Andrea Erika Reupert, Linda M A van Loon

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Children of mentally ill parents are at high risk of developing problems themselves. They are often identified and approached as a homogeneous group, despite diversity in parental diagnoses. Some studies demonstrate evidence for transgenerational equifinality (children of parents with various disorders are at risk of similar problems) and multifinality (children are at risk of a broad spectrum of problems). At the same time, other studies indicate transgenerational specificity (child problems are specifically related to the parent?s diagnosis) and concordance (children are mainly at risk of the same disorder as their parent). Better insight into the similarities and differences between children of parents with various mental disorders is needed and may inform the development and evaluation of future preventive interventions for children and their families. Accordingly, we systematically compared 76 studies on diagnoses in children of parents with the most prevalent axis I disorders: unipolar depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. Methodological characteristics of the studies were compared, and outcomes were analyzed for the presence of transgenerational equifinality, multifinality, specificity, and concordance. Also, the strengths of the relationships between child and parent diagnoses were investigated. This review showed that multifinality and equifinality appear to be more of a characteristic of children of unipolar and bipolar parents than of children of anxious parents, whose risk is mainly restricted to developing anxiety disorders. For all children, risk transmission is assumed to be partly specific since the studies indicate a strong tendency for children to develop the same disorder as their parent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281 - 299
Number of pages19
JournalClinical Child and Family Psychology Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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