Do Parental Psychiatric Symptoms Predict Outcome in Children With Psychiatric Disorders? A Naturalistic Clinical Study

Laura W. Wesseldijk, Gwen C. Dieleman, Francisca J.A. van Steensel, Ellen J. Bleijenberg, Meike Bartels, Susan M. Bögels, Christel M. Middeldorp*

*Corresponding author for this work

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OBJECTIVE: Parental psychiatric symptoms can negatively affect the outcome of children's psychopathology. Studies thus far have mainly shown a negative effect of maternal depression. This study examined the associations between a broad range of psychiatric symptoms in mothers and fathers and the child's outcome.

METHOD: Internalizing and externalizing psychiatric symptoms were assessed in 742 mothers, 440 fathers, and their 811 children at the first evaluation in 3 child and adolescent psychiatric outpatient clinics and at follow-up (on average 1.7 years later). Predictions of child's symptoms scores were tested at follow-up by parental symptom scores at baseline, parental scores at follow-up, and offspring scores at baseline.

RESULTS: Children whose mother or father scored above the (sub)clinical threshold for psychiatric symptoms at baseline had higher symptom scores at baseline and at follow-up. Offspring follow-up scores were most strongly predicted by offspring baseline scores, in addition to parental psychiatric symptoms at follow-up. Offspring symptom scores at follow-up generally were not predicted by parental scores at baseline. Maternal and paternal associations were of similar magnitude.

CONCLUSION: Higher symptom scores at follow-up in children of parents with psychopathology were mainly explained by higher symptom scores at baseline. Continuing parent-offspring associations could be a result of reciprocal effects, ie, parental symptoms influencing offspring symptoms and offspring symptoms influencing parental symptoms. Nevertheless, the results show that these children are at risk for persisting symptoms, possibly indicating the need to treat maternal and paternal psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-677.e6
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number9
Early online date17 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


This work was supported by the Netherlands Foundation for Mental Health (20096398) and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development Grant: “Genetic influences on stability and change in psychopathology from childhood to young adulthood” (ZonMW 912-10-020). Dr. Bartels is and has been supported by a VU University Research Chair Position, The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO): “Genetic and family influences on adolescent psychopathology and Wellness” (NWO 463-06-001); and “A twin-sib study of adolescent wellness” (NWO-VENI 451-04-034; FP7/2007-2013, grant 602768). Dr. Bögels has been supported by the NWO (VICI grant 453-09-001).

FundersFunder number
Netherlands Foundation for Mental Health20096398
Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek602768, 463-06-001, 453-09-001, NWO-VENI 451-04-034, FP7/2007-2013


    • child psychopathology
    • longitudinal
    • parental psychopathology
    • parent–offspring associations


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