Researchers identify the protective factors that predict good mental health outcomes in adolescents with a parent with depression.

Depression is a common mental health issue in Australia, affecting an estimated one million adults every year.  The causes of depression are not entirely known but genetics are thought to play a role.

It’s known that children of parents with depression are at three to four times increased risk of developing the condition compared to their peers.

Mental health issues that develop in childhood often persist into adulthood so it’s important to try to prevent the condition from developing as early as possible.

While kids of parents with mental health issues are more likely to develop a condition, it’s not inevitable, and there are many adolescents who have high levels of mental health resilience and avoid mental illness.

Researchers investigated what protective factors predict good mental health outcomes in high-risk adolescents with parents with mental illness.

The study involved children aged 9 – 17 years who were biologically related to, and lived with, a parent with depression.

They were assessed three times over a four year period with researchers measuring various factors including risk exposure, mental health of the children and family, social, cognitive and health behaviour protective factors.

The protective factors measured included;

  • exercise
  • good-quality relationships with the parent with depression
  • support provided by other family members and friends
  • adolescents’ ability to deal successfully with difficult situations.

The results found that around one fifth of adolescents in the study had good mental health across the three stages of assessment.

There were various protective factors identified amongst this group including;

  • positive expressed emotion from the parent with depression
  • support from the parent without depression
  • good quality social relationships
  • a belief in their ability to deal with adversity
  • getting regular exercise

The more protective factors the children had, the better the outcome.

Implications

This study shows that while kids with parents with mental illness are at increased risk, development of a condition is not inevitable. There are simple ways to promote good mental health outcomes in this high-risk group.

Ensuring that there is positive reinforcement from family members, encouraging socialisation and good friendships, and instilling a sense of self-efficacy in adolescents are all protective actions.

If you are feeling depressed or suicidal call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24 hour support that is free and confidential.

Last Reviewed: 30/08/2019

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Collishaw, S et al. Mental health resilience in the adolescent offspring of parents with depression: a prospective longitudinal study. Lancet Psychiatry 2016 3: 49 – 57 Published Online December 1 2015