The longitudinal course of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in war survivors: Insights from cross-lagged panel network analyses

Journal of Traumatic Stress

P. Schlechter, J. H. Hellmann, R. J. McNally & N. Morina


Many war survivors suffer from chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unraveling the complexities of PTSD symptoms over time is crucial for understanding this condition. Going beyond a common pathogenic pathway perspective, we applied the network approach to psychopathology to analyze longitudinal data from war survivors with PTSD in five Balkan countries approximately 8 years after war in the region and a follow-up assessment 1 year later (N = 698). PTSD diagnosis was established using the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview, and PTSD symptoms were assessed using the Impact of Events Scale–Revised. Undirected cross-sectional networks for baseline and follow-up revealed no differences in the overall connectivity between these two networks. The intrusion symptom “I had waves of strong feelings about it” had the strongest expected influence centrality. Directed cross-lagged panel network models indicated that hyperarousal symptoms predicted other PTSD symptoms from baseline to follow-up, whereas several avoidance symptoms were predicted by other PTSD symptoms. The findings underscore the importance of emotional reactions and further suggest that hyperarousal symptoms may influence other PTSD symptoms. Future research should investigate causality and associations between between-person and within-person networks.

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