The structure of common mental disorders

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999 Oct;56(10):921-6. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.56.10.921.


Background: This report presents the results of confirmatory factor analyses of patterns of comorbidity among 10 common mental disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey, a national probability sample of US civilians who completed structured diagnostic interviews.

Methods: Patterns of comorbidity among DSM-III-R mental disorders were analyzed via confirmatory factor analyses for the entire National Comorbidity Survey sample (N = 8098; age range, 15-54 years), for random halves of the sample, for men and women separately, and for a subsample of participants who were seeing a professional about their mental health problems. Four models were compared: a 1-factor model, a 2-factor model in which some disorders represented internalizing problems and others represented externalizing problems, a 3-factor variant of the 2-factor model in which internalizing was modeled as having 2 subfactors (anxious-misery and fear), and a 4-factor model in which the disorders represented separate affective, anxiety, substance dependence, and antisocial factors.

Results: The 3-factor model provided the best fit in the entire sample. This result was replicated across random halves of the sample as well as across women and men. The substantial empirical intercorrelation between anxious-misery and fear (0.73) suggested that these factors were most appropriately conceived as subfactors of a higher-order internalizing factor. In the treatment sample, the 2-factor model fit best.

Conclusions: The results offer a novel perspective on comorbidity, suggesting that comorbidity results from common, underlying core psychopathological processes. The results thereby argue for focusing research on these core processes themselves, rather than on their varied manifestations as separate disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Models, Statistical
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Sampling Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Software
  • United States / epidemiology