Thesis defence in the University of Oulu

Doctoral Candidate

Licentiate of Medicine Lotta Kinnunen

Faculty and research unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Medicine, Center for Life Course Health Research

Field of study


Date and time of the thesis defence

5.3.2021 12:00

Place of the thesis defence

Remote access:

Topic of the dissertation

The association of parental somatic illness with offspring's mental health


Associate Professor Linnea Karlsson, University of Turku


Professor Jouko Miettunen, University of Oulu

Parents’ physical illness can be stressful for their children

Parents’ somatic (physical) illnesses are present for a substantial proportion of the population and they have a noteworthy, yet complex, association with children’s mental health.

Lotta Kinnunen (M.D.) examined the associations between parents’ somatic illnesses and their children's mental health in her Doctoral dissertation.

From age 8 to 16 years, more than half (55%) of all children born in Northern Finland in 1986 had a parent with a somatic illness. Parents’ musculoskeletal disorders were associated with their children’s increased prodromal symptoms of psychosis. In contrast, some of the parents’ somatic illnesses were associated with their sons’ fewer emotional and behavioral symptoms. This may be because boys possibly develop resilience, ability to cope with hardships, following parent’s illness.

From birth to age 21, over 1 500 (2.6%) of all 60 000 children born in Finland in 1987 had a parent who had a traumatic brain injury. Children who had a parent with a traumatic brain injury used more specialized psychiatric services than their peers. In addition, children who had a parent with a traumatic brain injury were at increased risk for psychiatric disorders. The specific psychiatric diagnoses included substance-use-related disorders and behavioural and emotional disorders among sons and disorders of psychological development among daughters.

Two large data sets were used in the study: The 1987 Finnish Birth Cohort includes almost all children born in Finland in 1987 and The Northern Finland Birth Cohort includes almost all children born in Northern Finland 1986. Cohort data also included parents’ social and health information.

The high prevalence of parents’ somatic illnesses underlines its significance as a potential risk factor for children and highlights the need for accumulating studies on this issue. Particularly parents’ musculoskeletal disorders and traumatic brain injury had an adverse impact on children. However, examples of possible resilience among boys were present with some of the parents’ illnesses. The results highlight the importance of providing support for children whose parent has a somatic illness, whether the support is to reduce negative effects such as mental health problems, or to improve positive effects such as resilience.

Future studies should identify the underlying mechanisms and risk factors that associate with negative consequences of parents’ physical illness to better target prevention strategies.


Last updated: 23.2.2021