Study Suggests That Kids Raised By Strict Parents Are More Likely To Develop Depression

The research was conducted by comparing adolescents who came from 'good parenting' households and 'harsh parenting' households.

Cover image via Monstera/Pexels & Daniel Reche/Pexels

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A study conducted at the University of Leuven in Belgium suggested that children raised by extremely strict parents could develop depression later in life

Presented at the 35th European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress in Vienna, Austria by psychiatrist and lead researcher for the study, Dr Evelien Van Assche, it was reported that strict parenting can alter the way bodies read the DNA of children.

"We discovered that perceived harsh parenting, with physical punishment and psychological manipulation, can introduce an additional set of instructions on how a gene is read to become hard-wired into DNA.

"We have some indications that these changes themselves can predispose the growing child to depression. This does not happen to the same extent if the children have had a supportive upbringing," said Van Assche in a press release of the university's findings.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Daniel Reche/Pexels

To conduct the test, researchers selected 21 adolescents who came from households with 'good parenting' and compared them with 23 adolescents who were raised with 'harsh parenting'

Providing examples for their study, it was reported that the teenagers who came from the 'good parenting' category had parents who were supportive and provided their children with autonomy.

On the other hand, the 'harsh parenting' group allegedly displayed signs of manipulative behaviour, physical punishment, and excessive strictness.

All the adolescents were aged between 12 and 16, with the mean age being 14 years old for both groups. As discovered, those who were exposed to harsh parenting showed initial, subclinical signs of depression.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Monstera/Pexels

Using the scientific technique of genome mapping, it was discovered that those raised by 'harsh parents' exhibited increased levels of methylation, a biochemical process in DNA linked to depression

The researchers measured a range of methylation at more than 450,000 places in the DNA of each adolescent, finding a higher amount in those raised with harsh parents.

According to Dr Van Assche, while the DNA remained the same, additional chemical groups from methylation affected how the DNA instructions were read, thereby affecting the propensity towards depression.

"Those who reported harsher parenting showed a tendency towards depression, and we believe that this tendency has been baked into their DNA through increased variation in methylation.

"We are now seeing if we can close the loop by linking it to a later diagnosis of depression and perhaps use this increased methylation variation as a marker, to give advance warning of who might be at greater risk of developing depression as a result of their upbringing," as stated in the press release.

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Although the study was conducted in respect to strict parenting, Dr Van Assche stated that any form of significant stress can also contribute to children developing depression later in life

Commenting on these findings, Professor Christiaan Vinkers from the Department of Psychiatry at Amsterdam University Medical Centre noted that the importance of understanding detrimental childhood occurrences can bring permanent damage to adults in the future.

"This is extremely important work to understand the mechanisms how adverse experiences during childhood have life-long consequences for both mental health and physical health. There is a lot to gain if we can understand who is at risk, but also why there are differing effects of strict parenting."

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Kat Smith/Pexels

Click here to read the press release of the full study.

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