Attachment to parents unaffected in offspring of bipolar disorder patients

By Liam Davenport, medwireNews Reporter

Children born to families where at least one parent has bipolar disorder (BD) do not show abnormalities in attachment compared with other children, say Canadian researchers.

They found that it was high emotionality, rather than perceived attachment, that significantly predicted the risk for psychopathology in the children of parents with BD.

Anne Duffy (University of Calgary, Alberta) and colleagues suggest: "Subsequent research taking a more fine-grained approach is required, as we know from the literature in populations at risk for unipolar depression, that the timing, chronicity and severity of parental illness influences later illness risk in offspring," comment the authors.

They add in the Journal of Affective Disorders: "By informing knowledge of psychosocial risk factors in the development of BD, more targeted early prevention and intervention strategies can be developed."

The researchers studied 221 offspring from families in which at least one parent had a diagnosis of bipolar I or II disorder, and 63 from families in which neither parent had a history of major psychiatric illness.

All participants were assessed annually, on average, with all diagnoses based on (Kiddie) Schedule for Affective Disorders-Life Version format interviews. The Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment and the emotionality and shyness subscales from the Early Adolescent Temperament Scale were also administered.

The mean age at completing the attachment measure was 22 years in bipolar offspring and 16 years in control offspring. There was no significant difference in attachment to mother, father, and peers between bipolar and control offspring, and perceived attachment to parents or peers in bipolar offspring was not linked to risk for psychopathology.

However, high emotionality significantly increased the risk for psychopathology and mood disorder in bipolar offspring, at hazard ratios of 1.36 and 1.24, respectively. In bipolar offspring with high emotionality scores (>12), increasing father attachment scores were linked to psychopathology risk. No such association was seen in bipolar offspring with low emotionality.

Duffy et al conclude: "In this sample of prospectively followed offspring of one parent with BD, there appears to be no gross abnormalities in perceived attachment compared to control offspring of psychiatrically well parents."

They add: "This is an interesting finding differentiating individuals at risk for BD from those at risk of developing other psychiatric disorders such as unipolar depression… or borderline personality disorder."

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