Anticipating the direction of symptom progression using critical slowing down: a proof-of-concept study

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Abstract

Background As complex dynamic systems approach a transition, their dynamics change. This process, called critical slowing down (CSD), may precede transitions in psychopathology as well. This study investigated whether CSD may also indicate the direction of future symptom transitions, i.e., whether they involve an increase or decrease in symptoms. Methods In study 1, a patient with a history of major depression monitored their mental states ten times a day for almost eight months. Study 2 used data from the TRAILS TRANS-ID study, where 122 young adults at increased risk of psychopathology (mean age 23.64 +/- 0.67 years, 56.6% males) monitored their mental states daily for six consecutive months. Symptom transitions were inferred from semi-structured diagnostic interviews. In both studies, CSD direction was estimated using moving-window principal component analyses. Results In study 1, CSD was directed towards an increase in negative mental states. In study 2, the CSD direction matched the direction of symptom shifts in 34 individuals. The accuracy of the indicator was higher in subsets of individuals with larger absolute symptom transitions. The indicator's accuracy exceeded chance levels in sensitivity analyses (accuracy 22.92% vs. 11.76%, z=-2.04, P=.02) but not in main analyses (accuracy 27.87% vs. 20.63%, z=-1.32, P=.09). Conclusions The CSD direction may predict whether upcoming symptom transitions involve remission or worsening. However, this may only hold for specific individuals, namely those with large symptom transitions. Future research is needed to replicate these findings and to delineate for whom CSD reliably forecasts the direction of impending symptom transitions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number49
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Volume22
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2022

Keywords

  • Transitions in psychopathology
  • Critical slowing down
  • Daily diary study
  • Complex systems
  • EARLY WARNING SIGNALS
  • POSTTRAUMATIC-STRESS-DISORDER
  • INDIVIDUAL-LIVES SURVEY
  • NETWORK STRUCTURE
  • MENTAL-DISORDERS
  • DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS
  • COMPUTATIONAL MODEL
  • GENERIC INDICATORS
  • COHORT PROFILE
  • RISK

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