Barcelona snapshots

Prof. Brenda WJH Penninx

Brenda WJH Penninx psychiatrist Controversies Psiquiatry Barcelona
Vrije Universiteit, the Netherlands
Talk The intergenerational transmission of stress and resilience
Date Thursday, September 16th, 2021
Time 16:15 - 17:00
Round Table 1. Anxiety and stress-related disorders


Penninx is Professor at the Department of Psychiatry of the Amsterdam UMC, Vrije Universiteit in the Netherlands. Her focus is on cross-disciplinary mental health research which integrates psychiatry, psychology, neuroimaging, genomics, psychoneuroendocrinology, sociology and behavioural medicine. Early in my career she realized that large, well-phenotyped longitudinal studies are crucial to understand how genetic vulnerability and life experiences interplay in determining a person's risk to develop and maintain stress-related mental disorders. This was the stimulus for founding the multi-site, longitudinal Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (, an invaluable research resource for psychiatry which so far yielded >68 PhD-theses and >600 publications. She recently co-initiated the MARIO study that follows high-risk children and young adults in their stress and psychopathology patterns during life ( My work is exemplary in transforming and enhancing the value of longitudinal cohort studies to better understand the multi-nature origin and longitudinal trajectories of stress-related disorders. She currently supervises 4 Assistant Professors, 6 Post-doc fellows, and 20 PhD students. Over 50 PhD students obtained their PhD-degree under her supervision. In 2016, she was elected member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences and Arts.


Prevention is better than cure. This i a saying that still holds true. In mental health, many disorders start rather early in life. Anxiety disorders, for instance, generally start in childhood or adolescence, and the mean age of onset for Depressive disorders is in the early adulthood. When thinking about prevention, one has to focus on high-risk groups where onset risk is increased. As mental disorders often run in families, a family-perspective is therefore a logical focus for prevention. Children of parents with psychiatric disorders are 2-3 times more at risk for developing mental disorders early in their lifes. This can be explained by a combination of both genetic vulnerability and unfavorable living circumstances. Research indeed shows that offspring of patients with mental disorders report higher psychosocial as well as neurobiological vulnerability. Consequently, preventive programs in offsping of psychiatric patients could make a useful addition to improve mental health in the general population. In my presentation I will illustrate this with several examples from own reserach as well as based on other existing literature.


Havinga PJ, Maciejewski DF, Hartman CA, Hillegers MHJ, Schoevers RA, Penninx BWJH. (2021). Prevention programmes for children of parents with a mood/anxiety disorder: Systematic review of existing programmes and meta-analysis of their efficacy. Br J Clin Psychol. 2021 Jun;60(2):212-251. doi: 10.1111/bjc.12277. Epub 2021 Jan 6. PMID: 33410149; PMCID: PMC8248072.

Maciejewski D, Hillegers M, Penninx B. (2018). Offspring of parents with mood disorders: time for more transgenerational research, screening and preventive intervention for this high-risk population. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2018 Jul;31(4):349-357. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000423. PMID: 29708895.

Havinga PJ et al. (2017). Doomed for Disorder? High Incidence of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Offspring of Depressed and Anxious Patients: A Prospective Cohort Study. J Clin Psychiatry. 2017 Jan;78(1):e8-e17. doi: 10.4088/JCP.15m09936. PMID: 27898206.