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Psychiatric disorders represent a substantial burden on the health and wellbeing of individuals and their societies. Quantifying this burden and searching for its causes are the primary aims of psychiatric epidemiology. This chapter is a resource for clinical psychologists interested in the methods applied by epidemiologists searching for the causes of psychiatric conditions. The chapter starts out by introducing the types of study designs used in epidemiology, then describes the measurement and analysis of risk factors for psychiatric disorders. The chapter subsequently defines a cause and considers the properties necessary for the analysis of risk factors, previously estimated, to be considered a causal effect. The chapter concludes with considerations for clinical psychologists using epidemiologic methods.
Classic conceptual frameworks explaining the relationship of personality traits to depression include the precursor and predisposition models. The former hypothesizes that depression is predicted by traits alone whereas the latter hypothesizes that stress, together with personality, predicts depression. Dynamic vulnerability models (DVM) expand on these perspectives by incorporating fluctuations in personality over time. The stress generation model provides an alternative view, positing that depression generates stress, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. However, these conceptual models are rarely directly compared.
We tested these models, focusing on neuroticism and stressful life events that the participant may have contributed to, using path analysis in a sample of 550 never-depressed, adolescent females assessed five times over 3 years.
A dynamic precursor model with stress generation was best supported. For the precursor component, neuroticism predicted subsequent depression across four assessment intervals. For the dynamic trait component, stressful life events predicted subsequent neuroticism at three of four intervals. Finally, in line with stress generation, depression consistently predicted subsequent stressful life events, and life events then predicted depression.
Finding support for the DVM is noteworthy, as this is the first comprehensive test of this model. Moreover, results supported integrating stress generation with trait vulnerability. Continued use of integrated approaches and refining the statistical implementation of these theories is necessary to advance understanding of the development of depression.
Previous research suggests that various types of childhood maltreatment frequently co-occur and confer risk for multiple psychiatric diagnoses. This non-specific pattern of risk may mean that childhood maltreatment increases vulnerability to numerous specific psychiatric disorders through diverse, specific mechanisms or that childhood maltreatment engenders a generalised liability to dimensions of psychopathology. Although these competing explanations have different implications for intervention, they have never been evaluated empirically.
We used a latent variable approach to estimate the associations of childhood maltreatment with underlying dimensions of internalising and externalising psychopathology and with specific disorders after accounting for the latent dimensions. We also examined gender differences in these associations.
Data were drawn from a nationally representative survey of 34 653 US adults. Lifetime DSM-IV psychiatric disorders were assessed using the AUDADIS-IV. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect were assessed using validated measures. Analyses controlled for other childhood adversities and sociodemographics.
The effects were fully mediated through the latent liability dimensions, with an impact on underlying liability levels to internalising and externalising psychopathology rather than specific psychiatric disorders. Important gender differences emerged with physical abuse associated only with externalising liability in men, and only with internalising liability in women. Neglect was not significantly associated with latent liability levels.
The association between childhood maltreatment and common psychiatric disorders operates through latent liabilities to experience internalising and externalising psychopathology, indicating that the prevention of maltreatment may have a wide range of benefits in reducing the prevalence of many common mental disorders. Different forms of abuse have gender-specific consequences for the expression of internalising and externalising psychopathology, suggesting gender-specific aetiological pathways between maltreatment and psychopathology.
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