1.5m award will investigate how mother’s mental health and personality affect child’s mental health

How a mother’s mental health and personality affects her child’s mental health will be investigated by University of Bristol researchers who have been awarded 1.5million from the European Research Council.

Despite decades of research and intervention development, the causes of mental health conditions are still poorly understood due to the extremely complex genetic, environmental, behavioural and cognitive factors that underpin them. This five-year study, led by Dr Rebecca Pearson from Bristol Medical School’s Centre for Academic Mental Health , will provide critical new evidence regarding the role of parent child interactions and potential of parenting interventions. The vision of the study is to improve child mental health by identifying processes which can break the cycle of mental health risk across generations and identify the best methods of support for families.

The team will carry out analyses of existing population and intervention studies and will use data from several international cohorts including COCO90s (the next generation of Bristol’s Children of the 90s ) to study the genetic and environmental factors that could affect mother and child mental health. The researchers will study the interactions between 300 mother and infant pairs who will be fitted with novel wearable cameras and eye-tracking devices that will help them establish how maternal parenting behaviour is influenced by differences in personality and mental health and how this can in turn affect child mental health

Dr Pearson, Lecturer in Psychiatric Epidemiology, said: “We know that if a parent has mental health problems themselves their child is also at greater risk but we know very little about how this risk is transmitted. Parenting behaviour provides a modifiable pathway of transmission but is still poorly understood and the role of shared genetics unclear. This innovative research will study parenting at multiple levels to provide new insight. Understanding what puts a child at risk of developing mental health problems later in life is crucial if we want to take steps to reduce the risk and to support children effectively if they do develop mental health problems.”

The study builds on previous work, published in Psychological Medicine , by the team which looked at over 8,000 parents and children in Children of the 90s and found that the children of women with personality traits associated with emotional and relationship difficulties were at greater risk of depression, anxiety and self-harm in their late teens than their peers and work originally funded by an Elizabeth Blackwell Early Career Fellowship held by Dr Pearson in 2013/14.

The study, entitled ‘Genetic, behavioural and cognitive mechanisms underpinning the association between mother and offspring mental health problems: mental (M) health (H) intergenerational transmission (INT) -(MHINT)’ is funded by a European Research Council grant and the proposed commencement date is 01/01/2018.