Siblings of probands with depressive and anxiety disorders are at increased risk for psychopathology, but little is known about how risk factors operate within families to increase psychopathology for siblings. We examined the additional impact of psychosocial risk factors in probands—on top of or in combination with those in siblings—on depressive/anxious psychopathology in siblings.
The sample included 636 participants (Mage = 49.7; 62.4% female) from 256 families, each including a proband with lifetime depressive and/or anxiety disorders and their sibling(s) (N = 380 proband-sibling pairs). Sixteen psychosocial risk factors were tested. In siblings, depressive and anxiety disorders were determined with standardized psychiatric interviews; symptom severity was measured using self-report questionnaires. Analyses were performed with mixed-effects models accounting for familial structure.
In siblings, various psychosocial risk factors (female gender, low income, childhood trauma, poor parental bonding, being single, smoking, hazardous alcohol use) were associated with higher symptomatology and likelihood of disorder. The presence of the same risk factor in probands was independently associated (low income, being single) with higher symptomatology in siblings or moderated (low education, childhood trauma, hazardous alcohol use)—by reducing its strength—the association between the risk factor and symptomatology in siblings. There was no additional impact of risk factors in probands on likelihood of disorder in siblings.
Our findings demonstrate the importance of weighing psychosocial risk factors within a family context, as it may provide relevant information on the risk of affective psychopathology for individuals.