Childhood exposure to interpersonal violence is associated with greater transdiagnostic integration of psychiatric symptoms

Psychol Med. 2022 Jul;52(10):1883-1891. doi: 10.1017/S0033291720003712. Epub 2020 Nov 9.


Background: Childhood exposure to interpersonal violence (IPV) may be linked to distinct manifestations of mental illness, yet the nature of this change remains poorly understood. Network analysis can provide unique insights by contrasting the interrelatedness of symptoms underlying psychopathology across exposed and non-exposed youth, with potential clinical implications for a treatment-resistant population. We anticipated marked differences in symptom associations among IPV-exposed youth, particularly in terms of 'hub' symptoms holding outsized influence over the network, as well as formation and influence of communities of highly interconnected symptoms.

Methods: Participants from a population-representative sample of youth (n = 4433; ages 11-18 years) completed a comprehensive structured clinical interview assessing mental health symptoms, diagnostic status, and history of violence exposure. Network analytic methods were used to model the pattern of associations between symptoms, quantify differences across diagnosed youth with (IPV+) and without (IPV-) IPV exposure, and identify transdiagnostic 'bridge' symptoms linking multiple disorders.

Results: Symptoms organized into six 'disorder' communities (e.g. Intrusive Thoughts/Sensations, Depression, Anxiety), that exhibited considerably greater interconnectivity in IPV+ youth. Five symptoms emerged in IPV+ youth as highly trafficked 'bridges' between symptom communities (11 in IPV- youth).

Conclusion: IPV exposure may alter mutually reinforcing symptom co-occurrence in youth, thus contributing to greater psychiatric comorbidity and treatment resistance. The presence of a condensed and unique set of bridge symptoms suggests trauma-enriched nodes which could be therapeutically targeted to improve outcomes in violence-exposed youth.

Keywords: Adverse childhood experiences; child psychiatry; ecophenotype; interpersonal violence; network analysis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Child
  • Exposure to Violence*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / psychology
  • Mental Health
  • Violence