Parental depression moderates the relationships of cortisol and testosterone with children's symptoms
Abstract Background Previous research on the hormone-symptom relationship in children suggests that certain hormone patterns may be associated with symptoms, but only under certain circumstances. Having a parent with a history of depression may be one circumstance under which dysregulated hormone patterns are especially associated with emotional and behavioral symptoms in children. The current study sought to explore these relationships in a community sample of 389 9-year-old children. Methods Children's salivary cortisol and testosterone levels were collected at home over three consecutive days; parental psychiatric histories were assessed using semi-structured diagnostic interviews; and children's internalizing and externalizing symptoms were rated by the child's mother. Results Having two parents with a history of depression moderated the associations of reduced total daily cortisol output with higher externalizing scores, as well as the association of reduced testosterone with higher internalizing scores. A maternal history of depression, on the other hand, moderated the relationship between higher cortisol awakening response and higher internalizing scores. Furthermore, lower daily cortisol output was associated with higher internalizing scores among girls, but not boys, with two parents with a history depression. Limitations Limitations include the cross-sectional nature of the current analyses, as well as the limited racial, ethnic, and geographical diversity of the sample. Conclusions Taken together, the current results suggest that the relationship between hormones and internalizing and externalizing symptoms in children may vary as a function of parental depression and child sex, knowledge that may inform intervention efforts aimed at preventing psychopathology in children whose parents have a history of depression.