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Passing On Panic and Depression

Okay, go ahead and blame some of your neuroses and phobias on your parents, a new study in the January 2001 American Journal of Psychiatry says. Lead author Joseph Biederman, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, reports that parents suffering from panic disorder, major depression or both are more likely to have children with certain types of disorders. Knowing this, he says, may help clinicians treating adults identify children at risk for psychiatric and behavioral problems. "It's a matter of being aware," Biederman notes. "Recognizing that children at a very young age can be at high risk for emotional distress can go a long way toward doing something for them early in life."

The study looked at four sets of children: those with parents diagnosed with depression; those with parents diagnosed with panic disorder; those with parents diagnosed with both depression and panic disorder; and those with parents having neither condition. When they compared the groups, slightly different patterns emerged. Parental panic disorder was associated with an increased risks for panic disorder and agoraphobia in children. Parental depression was linked with increased risks for social phobia, major depression, disruptive behavior disorders and poorer social functioning among children. And parental panic and depressive disorders were associated with increased risks for separation anxiety disorder and multiple anxiety disorders in children. "The presence of depression in families," Biederman concludes, "has quite a major impact in the offspring."

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