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25. The Intergenerational Transmission of Separation Anxiety
Awareness of adult separation anxiety (SA) is growing, but there is dearth of knowledge on how SA aggregates in families. We examined the specificity of the intergenerational transmission of SA in a community sample of 481 children and their parents.
Children’s separation anxiety (CSA), depression, and other anxiety disorders were modeled as latent factors using lifetime diagnoses from interviews and symptom scores from questionnaires completed by mothers, fathers, and children when children were nine years old and again three years later. Parents’ SA was assessed via a questionnaire and parents’ other anxiety, depressive and substance use disorders via interview at baseline. Relationships between parents’ and children’s psychopathology were modeled using SEM.
Mothers’ SA was a non-specific risk factor for children’s psychopathology, relating to all three child psychopathology factors beyond other maternal disorders both concurrently (CSA: β=0.22, p<.001; depression: β=0.27, p<.001; other anxiety: β=0.26, p<.001) and prospectively (CSA: β=0.21, p=.002; depression: β=0.21, p<.001; other anxiety: β=0.24, p<.001). CSA was also predicted by maternal depression (concurrently: β=0.22, p<0.001; prospective: β=0.21, p=.002). The pattern of results was similar for fathers’ SA in the concurrent analysis (CSA: β=0.24, p<.001; depression: β=0.23, p<.001; other anxiety: β=0.21, p<.001), and CSA was likewise predicted by paternal depression (β=0.15, p=0.02). However, in the prospective analysis, the only paternal diagnosis with a significant relationship with children’s psychopathology was paternal SA with CSA (β=0.20, p=0.02). Results suggest parental SA is an important risk factor for children’s psychopathology and provide insight into its intergenerational transmission.