A Network Analysis of DSM-5 posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and correlates in U.S. military veterans
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Description: Object: Recent developments in psychometrics enable the application of network models to analyze psychological disorders, such as PTSD. Instead of understanding symptoms as indicators of an underlying common cause, this approach suggests symptoms co-occur in syndromes due to causal interactions. The current study has two goals: (1) examine the network structure among the 20 DSM-5 PTSD symptoms, and (2) incorporate clinically relevant variables to the network to investigate whether PTSD symptoms exhibit differential relationships with suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, physical quality of life (QoL), mental QoL, age, and sex. Method: We utilized a nationally representative U.S. military veteran’s sample; and analyzed the data from a subsample of 221 veterans who reported clinically significant DSM-5 PTSD symptoms. Networks were estimated using Gaussian graphical models and the lasso regularization. Results: The 20-item DSM-5 PTSD network revealed that symptoms were positively connected within the network. The most central symptoms were negative trauma-related emotions, flashbacks, detachment, and physiological cue reactivity. Especially strong connections emerged between nightmares and flashbacks; blame of self or others and negative trauma-related emotions, detachment and restricted affect; and hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response. Incorporation of clinically relevant covariates into the network revealed paths between self-destructive behavior and suicidal ideation; concentration difficulties and anxiety, depression, and mental QoL; and depression and restricted affect. Conclusion: These results demonstrate the utility of a network approach in modeling the structure of DSM-5 PTSD symptoms, and suggest differential associations between specific DSM-5 PTSD symptoms and clinical outcomes in trauma survivors. Implications of these results for informing the assessment and treatment of this disorder, are discussed.