Family Aggregation and Risk Factors in Phobic Disorders over Three-Generations in a Nation-Wide Study

Hans-Christoph Steinhausen, Helle Jakobsen, Andrea Meyer, Povl Munk Jørgensen, Roselind Lieb

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7 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: This nation-wide register-based study investigated how often phobic disorders (PHO) and co-morbid disorders occur in affected families compared to control families. Furthermore, the study addressed the impact of sex, year of birth, and degree of urbanization in terms of risk factors.

METHOD: A total of N = 746 child and adolescent psychiatric participants born between 1969 and 1986 and registered in the Danish Psychiatric Central Research Register (DPCRR) with a diagnosis of a mental disorder before the age of 18, and developed PHO at some point during their life-time until a maximum age of 40 years were included. In addition, N = 2229 controls without any diagnosis of mental disorders before age 18 and that were matched for age, sex, and residential region were included. Diagnoses of mental disorders were also obtained from the first- degree relatives as a part of the Danish Three Generation Study (3GS). A family load component was obtained by using various mixed regression models.

RESULTS: PHO occurred significantly more often in case than in control families, in particular, in mothers and siblings. Substance use disorders (SUD), Depressive disorders (DEP), anxiety disorders (ANX) and personality disorders (PERS) in the family were significantly associated with specific phobia in the case-probands. After controlling for various mental disorders comorbid to PHO it was found that some of the family transmission could be caused by various other mental disorders in family members rather than the PHO itself. Female sex and more recent year of birth were further risk factors while region of residence was not related to the manifestation of PHO. Case-relatives did not develop PHO earlier than control relatives. After adjusting for various additional explanatory variables, the family load explained only 0.0013% of the variance in the manifestation of PHO in the case-probands.

DISCUSSION: These findings, based on a very large and representative dataset, provide evidence for the family aggregation and further risk factors in PHO. In contrast to anxiety disorders and other major mental disorders the family load of PHO in this nation-wide study was rather low.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0146591
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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