A dynamical systems analysis of change in PTSD symptoms, depression symptoms, and suicidal ideation among military personnel during treatment for PTSD

Abstract: OBJECTIVE: The connections among posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and suicidal ideation are elusive because of an overreliance on cross-sectional studies. In this secondary analysis of pooled data from three clinical trials of 742 military personnel, we examined the dynamic relationships among PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation severity assessed repeatedly during and after outpatient treatment for PTSD. METHODS: We conducted dynamical systems analyses to explore the potential for coordinated change over time in psychotherapy for PTSD. RESULTS: Over the course of psychotherapy, PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation severity changed in coordinated ways, consistent with an interdependent network. Results of eigenvalue decomposition analysis indicated the dominant change dynamic involved high stability and resistance to change but indicators of cycling were also observed, indicating participants "switched" between states that resisted change and states that promoted change. Depression (B = 0.48, SE = 0.11) and suicidal desire (B = 0.15, SE = 0.01) at a given assessment were associated with greater change in PTSD symptom severity at the next assessment. Suicidal desire (B = 0.001, SE < 0.001) at a given assessment was associated with greater change in depression symptom severity at the next assessment. Neither PTSD (B = -0.004, SE = 0.007) nor depression symptom severity (B = 0.000, SE = 0.001) was associated with subsequent change in suicidal ideation severity. CONCLUSIONS: In a sample of treatment-seeking military personnel with PTSD, change in suicidal ideation and depression may precede change in PTSD symptoms but change in suicidal ideation was not preceded by change in PTSD or depression symptoms.

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