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Depressive Symptoms and Their Interactions With Emotions and Personality Traits Over Time: Interaction Networks in a Psychiatric Clinic

Laura N. Semino, MSc; Josef Marksteiner, MD; Gernot Brauchle, PhD; and Erik Danay, PhD

Published: April 13, 2017

Article Abstract

Objective: Associations between depression, personality traits, and emotions are complex and reciprocal. The aim of this study is to explore these interactions in dynamical networks and in a linear way over time depending on the severity of depression.

Methods: Participants included 110 patients with depressive symptoms (DSM-5 criteria) who were recruited between October 2015 and February 2016 during their inpatient stay in a general psychiatric hospital in Hall in Tyrol, Austria. The patients filled out the Beck Depression Inventory-II, a German emotional competence questionnaire (Emotionale Kompetenz Fragebogen), Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, and the German versions of the Big Five Inventory-short form and State-Trait-Anxiety-Depression Inventory regarding symptoms, emotions, and personality during their inpatient stay and at a 3-month follow-up by mail. Network and regression analyses were performed to explore interactions both in a linear and a dynamical way at baseline and 3 months later.

Results: Regression analyses showed that emotions and personality traits gain importance for the prediction of depressive symptoms with decreasing symptomatology at follow-up (personality: baseline, adjusted R2 = 0.24, P < .001; follow-up, adjusted R2 = 0.65, P < .001). Network analyses additionally showed that the interaction network of depression, emotions, and personality traits is significantly denser and more interconnected (network comparison test: P = .03) at follow-up than at baseline, meaning that with decreased symptoms interconnections get stronger.

Conclusions: During depression, personality traits and emotions are walled off and not strongly interconnected with depressive symptoms in networks. With decreasing depressive symptomatology, interfusing of these areas begins and interconnections become stronger. This finding has practical implications for interventions in an acute depressive state and with decreased symptoms. The network approach offers a new perspective on interactions and is a way to make the complexity of these interactions more tangible.

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