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Heterogeneity in development of adolescent anxiety disorder symptoms in an 8-year longitudinal community study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 November 2013

Stefanie A. Nelemans*
Utrecht University
William W. Hale III
Utrecht University
Susan J. T. Branje
Utrecht University
Quinten A. W. Raaijmakers
Utrecht University
Tom Frijns
Utrecht University
Pol A. C. van Lier
VU University Amsterdam
Wim H. J. Meeus
Utrecht University
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Stefanie A. Nelemans, Research Centre Adolescent Development, Utrecht University, PO Box 80.140, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands; E-mail:


In this study, we prospectively examined developmental trajectories of five anxiety disorder symptom dimensions (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, school anxiety, separation anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder) from early to late adolescence in a community sample of 239 adolescents, assessed annually over 8 years. Latent growth modeling indicated different developmental trajectories from early into late adolescence for the different anxiety disorder symptoms, with some symptoms decreasing and other symptoms increasing over time. Sex differences in developmental trajectories were found for some symptoms, but not all. Furthermore, latent class growth analysis identified a normal developmental profile (including a majority of adolescents reporting persistent low anxiety disorder symptoms over 8 years) and an at-risk developmental profile (including a minority of adolescents reporting persistent high anxiety disorder symptoms over 8 years) for all of the anxiety disorder symptom dimensions except panic disorder. Additional analyses longitudinally supported the validity of these normal and at-risk developmental profiles and suggested differential associations between different anxiety disorder symptom dimensions and developmental trajectories of substance use, parenting, and identity development. Taken together, our results emphasize the importance of examining separate dimensions of anxiety disorder symptoms in contrast to a using a global, one-dimensional approach to anxiety.

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