Association of Parental Mental Illness and Autoimmune Disease Risk In Children

June 09, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team

Although children and adolescents with parental mental illness are likely to be exposed to more adversity and deprivation in childhood, this does not appear overall to increase autoimmune disease risk.

A study of 2 million Swedish children and their parents aimed to examine the associations between a broad spectrum of maternal and paternal mental illnesses and the risk of several autoimmune diseases in children. The result of the study was the following:

  • Parental mental illness was weakly associated with childhood autoimmune disease.
  • The risks varied widely by types of mental illness and autoimmune disease.
  • Parental depression or anxiety was linked to a higher risk for juvenile arthritis and psoriasis.
  • Maternal depression and eating disorders were associated with a higher risk for type 1 diabetes.
  • Maternal non-affective psychosis was linked to a lower risk for coeliac disease.

The Research that was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research conducted a population-based cohort study of 2,192,490 Swedish children born between 1991 and 2011 and their parents.

Time-dependent diagnoses of parental mental illness (psychosis, alcohol/drug misuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder) and offspring autoimmune diseases type 1 diabetes (T1D), juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), coeliac disease) were identified from inpatient/outpatient healthcare visits. Associations were measured by hazard ratios (HRs) adjusted for potential confounders.

Researchers were able to study the risks while incorporating rich information on confounders, such as socioeconomic factors and familial history of autoimmune disease.

Association between parental mental illness and autoimmune disease

The findings of the research suggest that most types of parental mental illness show no relationship with any additional risk of autoimmune disease in offspring. However, the discussion of the report suggests an increase in risk for both juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and psoriasis if a parent suffered from anxiety, depression, or drug and alcohol use disorders.

“Second, we observed an increase in risk for type 1 diabetes (T1D) if the mother was diagnosed with depression or eating disorders. The greatest excess relative risk for T1D in offspring (41%) was observed for mothers with an eating disorder. We also observed a lower risk of inflammatory bowel disease in children with parental alcohol/substance use disorders, especially when the father carried the diagnosis, and for coeliac disease among children of mothers with non-affective psychotic disorders,” said the report.

Complex associations between parental and children illness

This is important because a growing literature links depression and stress-related disorders to early adversity and deprivation with subsequent altered inflammatory and immune. “If higher levels of psychosocial adversity and/or stress are triggering autoimmune disease among children and adolescents with parental mental illness, we would have expected the highest rates of autoimmune diseases among those with childhood psychopathology, as well as among those with lower parental education or household income, which are both linked to childhood adversity,” the researchers say in the discussion.

However, childhood psychopathology was less common in children diagnosed with autoimmune disease and there were similar increases in overall risk of autoimmune diseases among children and adolescents with and without childhood psychopathology.

“Additionally, we did not observe significant differences in the risk across different strata of parental socioeconomic position,” stated the report.

Eating disorders in parents associated with Type 1 Diabetes in children

“The two most notable associations between maternal eating disorder and T1D and parental anxiety/depressive/alcohol-drug disorders with psoriasis may implicate novel interactions between environment and genetics altering immune mechanisms,” the discussion of the report stated.

Microorganisms in the gut (part of the so-called ‘microbiome’) may be important endocrine modulators of the immune system. Eating disorders, drug, and alcohol dependence, as well as mood disorders, may plausibly alter gut microbiota and influence dysregulation of the immune system.

The report further states that “whether or not alterations in maternal or paternal microbiota also can seed relevant changes in offspring microbiota to influence their immune responses requires far more research but transgenerational passage of microbiota has been described.”

Genetic factors underline increased risks

Genetic factors may underlie some of the increased risks. “Although more research is needed, it may be possible that the observed association between maternal eating disorders and T1D in the child can be partly explained by epigenetic mechanisms occurring during fetal development,” suggested the report.

Also, the mechanisms that might link alcohol use in the parents with risk for autoimmune disease in children are currently unknown and need to be addressed in research, if future studies confirm these findings.



Help is here:

Name of the Organisation: Indian Organization for Rare Diseases

(IORD) is an umbrella organization, representing interests of all rare disease patients, patient support groups, health policy advocates and health care providers extending support or working in the field of any of the undermentioned rare disease groups.


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Telephone: +91-9666438880

Name of the Organisation: Vandrevala Foundation

Vandrevala Foundation is a non-profit that partners with organizations to help communities thrive by providing education and healthcare. Vandrevala Foundation launched a mental health helpline in India in 2009 to offer free psychological counselling and crisis mediation to anyone who is experiencing distress due to depression, trauma, mood disorders, chronic illness, and relationship conflict.


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Telephone: +91 9999 666 555

Name of the Organisation: Indla’s Child Guidance Clinics (ICGC)

Indla’s Child Guidance Clinics (ICGC) was established in Vijayawada and then was expanded to Mumbai in 2015 followed by another branch in the same city in 2017. ICGC provides assessment, remediation, and counseling all under one roof. It offers medication, parental counseling and therapies for children and adolescents. They also conduct workshops on parenting and life skills development.


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Telephone: 9820333068 , 022-24380802

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