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December 1987

Siblings of Disabled Children: Effects of Chronic Stress in the Family

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland. Dr Breslau is now with Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1987;44(12):1040-1046. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1987.01800240014003

• We examined the effects of chronic stress in families of severely disabled children on psychopathology in siblings. We present findings from a five-year follow-up of 192 siblings of disabled children and a geographically based probability sample of 284 children (controls), who were 6 to 18 years old at initial assessment (time 1) and 11 to 23 years old at follow-up (time 2). Data on the Psychiatric Screening Inventory were obtained from mothers at times 1 and 2. Additionally, at time 2 the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children was administered to the children themselves. At follow-up, the siblings' picture according to mothers' assessment appears worse than it did initially: in addition to the excess in aggressive symptoms seen at time 1, they manifested an excess in depressive affect and social isolation. The time 2 interviews with the children themselves show that the siblings scored significantly higher than controls on depressive symptoms, although the rate of DSM-III major depression was not significantly different. An excess in depressive symptoms was observed also in mothers of disabled children, who, like the siblings, were not at increased risk for major depression.

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