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Is sensitivity to daily stress predictive of onset or persistence of psychopathology?

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Published:1st Sep 2017
Author: Vaessen T, van Nierop M, Decoster J, Delespaul P, Derom C, de Hert M et al.
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Ref.:Eur Psychiatry. 2017;45:167-173.
DOI:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2017.07.002

Purpose: The aim of the current study was to replicate findings in adults indicating that higher sensitivity to stressful events is predictive of both onset and persistence of psychopathological symptoms in a sample of adolescents and young adults. In addition, we tested the hypothesis that sensitivity to mild stressors in particular is predictive of the developmental course of psychopathology.

Methods: We analyzed experience sampling and questionnaire data collected at baseline and one-year follow-up of 445 adolescent and young adult twins and non-twin siblings (age range: 15-34). Linear multilevel regression was used for the replication analyses. To test if affective sensitivity to mild stressors in particular was associated with follow-up symptoms, we used a categorical approach adding variables on affective sensitivity to mild, moderate and severe daily stressors to the model.

Results: Linear analyses showed that emotional stress reactivity was not associated with onset (β=.02; P=.56) or persistence (β=-.01; P=.78) of symptoms. There was a significant effect of baseline symptom score (β=.53; P<.001) and average negative affect (NA: β=.19; P<.001) on follow-up symptoms. Using the categorical approach, we found that affective sensitivity to mild (β=.25; P<.001), but not moderate (β=-.03; P=.65) or severe (β=-.06; P=.42), stressors was associated with symptom persistence one year later.

Discussion: We were unable to replicate previous findings relating stress sensitivity linearly to symptom onset or persistence in a younger sample. Whereas sensitivity to more severe stressors may reflect adaptive coping, high sensitivity to the mildest of daily stressors may indicate an increased risk for psychopathology.

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