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June 22, 2020

Intergenerational Associations of Parental Mental Illness and Child Health

Author Affiliations
  • 1Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, West Virginia University, Morgantown
  • 2Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus
  • 3Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus
JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(8):e201755. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.1755

Western medicine’s traditional approach to physical and mental illnesses as distinct domains is increasingly giving way to a better understanding of health as a unitary construct as knowledge of the strong interrelationship of these conditions increases. Mental disorders are associated with individual distress and disability, and an increasing body of evidence documents poorer physical health and markedly diminished life expectancy among individuals with mental illness compared with the general population.1,2 Mental illness is highly prevalent among adults of child-rearing age, with available data suggesting that approximately 20% of children live in a household with a parent with mental illness and approximately 5% with a parent with a seriously impairing mental illness.3,4 Although it is widely appreciated that children of parents with mental illness are at significantly greater risk of developing mental disorders than unexposed peers,5 our understanding of the association between parental mental illness and child physical health remains inadequate. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis6 found that children of parents with mental illness are at greater risk of poor physical health and injury than the offspring of unaffected parents. The authors6 outlined deficiencies in the available literature, most notably that studies have focused almost exclusively on mothers with depression, with relatively little study devoted to fathers or to other serious mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

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