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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Correlation: Siblings and Depression?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 12th 2007

Are you an adult male, do you experience depression and did you have poor relationships with brothers and sisters while you were growing up?

The June issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry published the findings of a study that was started some thirty years ago. Two hundred and twenty nine men were followed for thirty years. The men were 18 or 19 years old when the study began. Parents were interviewed and there were intermittent interview during the thirty years to see how the men were doing. A fascinating outcome of the research was the discovery that men who had poor sibling relations beginning during childhood were more likely to become depressed than those who had good sibling relationships.

At this point, the only thing that can be said about male depression and poor sibling relationships starting during childhood is that there seems to be a positive correlation between the two variables. A correlation demonstrates a relationship but says nothing about causation. In other words, it cannot be said that poor childhood relations with siblings caused depression later in life for the selected men. There are many other possible variables that may have contributed to both the depression and the poor relationships. One of those possible causal variables is poor parenting resulting in poor relating to other people including siblings. However, the study further clarified the fact that the men who grew up with good relationships with parents but suffered Major Depression during childhood had poor relationships with brothers and sisters while they were growing up.

Another factor that is not clear is whether depression causes poor sibling relationships or poor sibling relationships cause depression. The only thing that is clear is that there is this positive correlation between poor relationships with brothers and sisters and depression. One other item is the fact that if there was a good relationship between at least one sibling the chances of suffering depression are greatly reduced.

Keep in mind that the sample for this study is extremely small and is restricted to white males and, therefore, is not representative of the wider population.

Another factor that needs to be considered is that siblings learn from one another how to get along in the world later on in life. Isn't it possible that not being able how to get along with any sibling has a lot to do with not learning how to cope and therefore it ends in depression later in life? Also, what about those who are only children? How do they learn to cope with life other than what they learn from parents, friends and school?

What are your thoughts about this?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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