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Structure and Connectivity of Depressive Symptom Networks Corresponding to Early Treatment Response – The Lancet

Abstract

Background

There are suggestions that denser network connectivity (i.e., the strength of associations between individual symptoms) may be a prognostic indicator of poor treatment response in depression. We sought to examine this aspect of depressive symptom networks in the context of early responses to treatment in adolescents.

Methods

Routine psychiatric data were obtained for child/adolescent service users who underwent at least three treatment sessions in publicly funded services in England between 2011 and 2015 (N = 3017, 78% female; mean age [SD] = 14.43 years [1.75]). Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Revised Children’s Anxiety and Depression Scale at presentation, and again after three treatment sessions. Treatment response was determined using the Reliable Change Index. Network analysis was used to compare the depressive symptom structure and connectivity of sub-samples who, after three treatment sessions had: 1) positively responded (n = 566), 2) not reliably changed (n = 2277), and 3) reliably deteriorated (n = 174), using matched samples to control for baseline severity.

Findings

Overall connectivity (i.e., the summed total of weighted connections) was significantly weaker for the positive treatment response group at baseline (compared with unchanged and deteriorated groups), however, this group saw the largest increase in connectivity over the course of treatment. With regard to the overall importance of specific symptoms within the networks, fatigue was highest in strength for the unchanged and deteriorated groups, whereas low mood was highest in strength for the improved group.

Interpretation

This study demonstrates that adolescents who respond early to treatment for depression are characterised by symptom networks that are less densely connected initially, yet increase in connectivity over the course of treatment. This may be indicative of ‘positive spirals’ whereby improvement in one symptom triggers improvements in other symptoms, thereby increasing symptom–symptom associations even as severity decreases.

Funding

The study was supported by the Wellcome Trust grant 204366/Z/16/Z. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection, data analysis, interpretation, or writing of the report.

1. Introduction

Depression is the most prevalent and burdensome form of psychopathology [

[1]
  • Kessler R.C.
  • Berglund P.
  • Demler O.
  • Jin R.
  • Merikangas K.R.
  • Walters E.E.
Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.