Adolescent girls who grow up with mothers who are depressed are themselves highly vulnerable to developing depression (i.e., “intergenerational transmission of depression”). Stressor exposure is a strong risk factor for depression, and the transmission of depression risk from mothers to daughters is partly due to mothers experiencing more stressors, increasing daughters’ stressor burden. However, research in this area has only assessed recent stressors, making the role of cumulative lifetime stressors unclear.
To address this issue, we recruited 52 dyads of mothers and adolescent daughters, of which 22 daughters were at high maternal risk for depression. Participants completed diagnostic interviews, and daughters additionally self-reported their depressive symptoms. Participants also completed the Stress and Adversity Inventory, a new-generation instrument for assessing cumulative lifetime history of acute and chronic stressors based on the contextual threat approach. We tested moderated mediation models evaluating the conditional indirect effects of mothers’ lifetime stressors on high- versus low-risk daughters’ depressive symptoms through daughters’ lifetime stressors.
As hypothesized, mothers of high-risk (but not low-risk) adolescent daughters who reported more lifetime acute stressors had daughters who reported more lifetime acute stressors and current depressive symptoms. Moreover, this finding was driven specifically by mothers’ stressors occurring after their daughters’ births. There was also tentative evidence that high-risk daughters’ lifetime chronic stressors potentiated the impact of daughters’ acute stressors on their depressive symptoms.
These findings provide new insights into how stressful contexts are transmitted intergenerationally.