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Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Society for Research in Psychopathology

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5. Social support moderates the development of psychopathology in the offspring of parents with bipolar disorder: A 10-year longitudinal study

Background: The offspring of parents with bipolar disorder (OBD) are at high risk for the development of mental disorders and externalizing problems. In addition to genetic factors, these outcomes are associated with childhood adversity and a stressful family environment. Protective factors in parents, such as social support, may act to buffer the effects of stress on at-risk children. No studies have examined the effect of social support on the development of psychopathology in OBD. The present study tested whether social support in families having a parent with bipolar disorder attenuates the relationship between risk status and negative mental health outcomes in young adulthood. Methods: The sample included 66 OBD and 67 controls (67 female) between 13 and 28 years old. At time 1, parents underwent a diagnostic interview and completed the Arizona Social Support Interview Schedule. Offspring underwent a diagnostic interview at time 2, approximately 10 years later. Results: Parents’ satisfaction with their social support network moderated the relationship between risk status and the number of substance use symptoms in their children (Group X Social Support; F(1, 128)=3.83, p=.052). Analysis of conditional effects revealed robust group differences in substance use symptoms when social support was low (t(1)=2.43, p=.016), but this difference disappeared when social support was high (t(1)=-.104, p=.918). Unexpectedly, the OBD whose parents reported a larger social support network reported significantly higher anxiety and depression symptoms than controls (F(1,127)=5.36, p=0.02). Discussion: Higher satisfaction with one’s social support network in parents with bipolar disorder may be a protective factor, while social network size may be detrimental, to the development of psychopathology in their offspring.

Florencia Trespalacios
Concordia University

Mark Ellenbogen
Concordia University

Lisa Serravalle
Concordia University

Erin Yong Ping
Concordia University


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