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Study Attributes Depression in Children of Divorce to Genetics


Noticing depression in children of divorce has been commonly observed by many parents over the years. With that said, the reasons for this depression in children of divorce have been subject to debate.

While many people have directly linked this depression in children to coping with divorce, a study in the July issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry is attempting to turn over the psychological effects of divorce by attributing post-divorce depression to genetics.

Brian D'Onofrio, an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University, specifically set out to determine what causes this depression in children of divorce. D'Onofrio essentially studied 4,800 children of twins. The subjects ranged in age from 16 to 79 with the average age being 35 years.

D'Onofrio compared depression in children of identical and fraternal twins and made some expected and rather interesting observations. As expected, the offspring of fraternal twins whose parents were divorced were more likely to be depressed or have problems with anxiety than cousins whose parents remained married.

Things got interesting when studying the identical twins, who share exact genetic replicas of one another. D'Onofrio found that it didn't matter whether the parents were married or divorced, the children of identical twins maintained the same levels of anxiety and depression.

D'Onofrio elaborated how the risk of emotional problems in children of divorced parents increases with shared genes. He also suggested that parents who are unhappy in their marriage are more likely to have children more prone to depression.

Basically, D'Onforio is asserting that a person who is often depressed will be more likely to be unhappy with things in their life like a marriage. In turn, these genes may spur divorce and even more depression and unhappiness. Now when these genes are shared with children, the offspring will be prone to similar feelings.

With that said, D'Onofrio did not discount the idea that divorce affects children. D'Onofrio specifically found that people who grew up in broken homes before, during and after the divorce process had an increased risk of abusing alcohol. D'Onofrio also noted that his previous studies have linked divorce with children's behavior problems like skipping school, stealing and getting into fights.

It will be interesting to see how D'Onofrio's study is interpreted by other psychologists and sociologists. Dr. David Fassler, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont, admitted in an MSNBC.com story that the study produced some interesting results that challenge current assumptions about the effects of divorce on children.

Others noted that this study once again reveals the importance for parents to take their children into consideration during a divorce. As one example, parents are suggested to not fight in front of their kids and to try to reduce the level of parental conflict.

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