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Anxious mother - anxious children?

--- Courtesy Politics.Co.Uk


Children of mothers with anxiety disorders have an increased risk of developing anxiety themselves, compared with children of mothers who are not anxious.

This new study, published in the April 2008 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, confirmed and extended the findings of previous research. It also went further to distinguish between different anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, phobias, generalised anxiety disorder and separation anxiety.

The researchers analysed data on 933 mother-child pairs from the Early Developmental Stages of Psychopathology, a prospective longitudinal community survey.

The children were aged 14-17 at the start of the study, and were followed up twice. In a separate survey, their biological mothers were also interviewed. Anxiety disorders were assessed in both groups.

It was found that 27.4% of the mothers studied, and 33% of their children, had an anxiety disorder. Mothers with and without anxiety disorders differed in relation to their current living situation (with partner 76.5% v. 83.8% respectively) and educational level (higher education 20.5% v. 29.1% respectively).

In particular, social phobia and generalised anxiety disorder in mothers were found to increase the risk of anxiety disorders in their children.

Increased anxiety disorders in children were also associated with early onset and more anxiety disorders in their mothers, as well as more severe impairment.

A highly significant increased risk of separation anxiety was found in the children of mothers with v. without panic disorder (89.2% v. 1.7%).

Higher rates of panic disorder (7.4% v. 1.3%) and phobia (20.2% v. 9.1%) were found in children of mothers with v. without generalised anxiety disorder.

Interestingly, say the researchers, children of mothers with and without anxiety disorders did not differ in age at first onset of anxiety, possibly because phobias in particular develop relatively early in life, irrespective of family history.

Increased rates of anxiety in the children were found only when their mothers met three specific diagnostic criteria - considerable impairment in daily life; onset of anxiety before the age of 20; and at least 2 anxiety disorders. Thus only severe maternal anxiety disorder is associated with an increased rate of anxiety disorders in children.

The researchers conclude that the type of maternal anxiety disorder and its severity contribute to the link between anxiety disorders in mothers and their children.

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