Adolescent and young adult mental health problems and infant offspring behavior: Findings from a prospective intergenerational cohort study

Primrose Letcher*, Christopher J. Greenwood, Helena Romaniuk, Elizabeth Spry, Jacqui A. Macdonald, Helena McAnally, Kimberly C. Thomson, George Youssef, Delyse Hutchinson, Jennifer McIntosh, Ann Sanson, Joanne Ryan, Ben Edwards, Judith Sligo, Robert J. Hancox, George C. Patton, Craig A. Olsson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Parental depression and anxiety have been consistently linked to offspring behavior problems across childhood. However, many of the risks for these common mental health problems are established well before pregnancy. This study takes advantage of rare, prospective data to examine relations between parental mental health histories (from adolescence onwards) and next generation offspring behavior problems. Methods: Data were drawn from a multi-generational cohort study that has followed Australians from infancy to adulthood since 1983, and 1171 of their offspring assessed prospectively from pregnancy. Generalized estimating equation models were used to estimate associations between parents’ depression/anxiety symptoms in adolescence and young adulthood and offspring behavior problems at 1 year. Results: In analyses of 648 mother-infant and 423 father-infant dyads, after adjustment for confounders and concurrent mental health problems, mean behavior problem scores in infants of mothers with a history of mental health problems in both adolescence and young adulthood were over half a standard deviation higher than those of mothers without problems during these periods, B = 2.19, 95% CI 1.21 – 3.17, β = 0.52. No association was observed for fathers. Limitations: We only included infants born to participants aged 29–35 years and we assessed behavior problems via parent-report. Conclusions: A mother's history of persistent depression and anxiety from adolescence to young adulthood can predict higher levels of behavior problems in her infant. Findings support calls for greater policy and prevention focus on preconception and postnatal mental health, particularly a mother's early emotional health history, prior to parenthood.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)521-528
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


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