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J Abnorm Psychol. 2012 May;121(2):325-38. doi: 10.1037/a0026243. Epub 2011 Nov 21.

Higher-order structure in the trajectories of depression and anxiety following sudden involuntary unemployment.

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Department of Psychology, George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052, USA.


Recent work on comorbidity finds evidence for hierarchical structure of mood and anxiety disorders and symptoms. This study tests whether a higher-order internalizing factor accounts for variation in depression and anxiety symptom severity and change over time in a sample experiencing a period of major life stress. Data on symptoms of depression, chronic worry, and social anxiety were collected five times across seven months from 426 individuals who had recently lost jobs. Growth models for each type of symptom found significant variation in individual trajectories. Slopes were highly correlated across symptom type, as were intercepts. Multilevel confirmatory factor analyses found evidence for a higher-order internalizing factor for both slopes and intercepts, reflective of comorbidity of depression and anxiety, with the internalizing factor accounting for 54% to 91% of the variance in slopes and intercepts of specific symptom sets, providing evidence for both a general common factor and domain-specific factors characterizing level and change in symptoms. Loadings on the higher order factors differed modestly for men and women, and when comparing African American and White participants, but did not differ by age, education, or history of depression. More distal factors including gender and history of depression were strongly associated with internalizing in the early weeks after job loss, but rates of change in internalizing were associated most strongly with reemployment. Findings suggest that stressors may contribute in different ways to the common internalizing factor as compared to variance in anxiety and depression that is independent of that factor.

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