Family functioning in the context of parental bipolar disorder: associations with offspring age, sex, and psychopathology.
Previous research has shown that families with a parent who has bipolar disorder (BD) may experience family functioning difficulties. However, the association between family functioning and psychopathology among offspring of parents with BD, and offspring characteristics that may moderate this association, remains poorly understood. This study examined the cross-sectional associations between family functioning (cohesion, expressiveness, and conflict) and psychopathology in 117 offspring (ages 5–18) of 75 parents with BD. We also examined whether age and sex differences moderated these associations. We measured offspring psychopathology by examining current dimensional symptoms and DSM–IV emotional and behavioral disorders. Correlational analyses indicated that higher family conflict and lower cohesion were associated with higher internalizing and externalizing symptoms in offspring. Lower family cohesion was also associated with current offspring mood disorders. Moderation analyses indicated, first, that the link between lower family cohesion and internalizing symptoms was stronger for younger offspring compared to older offspring. Second, higher family conflict and current mood disorder were associated in younger males but not in older males or in females. Results remained the same after controlling for parental anxiety or substance use disorder comorbidity. Our study highlights the importance of accounting for family functioning when working with offspring at risk for BD, while also recognizing that the connections between family functioning and offspring outcomes are complex and differ based on offspring sex and developmental stage.