Depressive symptom networks in the UK general adolescent population and in those looked after by local authorities.


BACKGROUND: Despite the importance of understanding depressive symptom constellations during adolescence and specifically in looked-after children, studies often only apply sum score models to understand depression in these populations, neglecting associations among single symptoms that can be elucidated in network analysis. The few network analyses in adolescents have relied on different measures to assess depressive symptoms, contributing to inconsistent cross-study results. OBJECTIVE: In three population-based studies using the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, we used network analyses to study depressive symptoms during adolescence and specifically in looked-after children. METHOD: We computed cross-sectional networks (Gaussian Graphical Model) in three separate datasets: the Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain 1999 survey (n=4235, age 10-15 years), the mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in Great Britain 2002 survey (n=643, age 11-17 years) and the Millennium Cohort Study in the UK 2015 (n=11 176, age 14 years). FINDINGS: In all three networks, self-hate emerged as a key symptom, which aligns with former network studies. I was no good anymore was also among the most central symptoms. Among looked-after children, I was a bad person constituted a central symptom, while this was among the least central symptom in the other two datasets. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition symptom I did not enjoy anything was not central. CONCLUSIONS: Findings indicate that looked-after children's depressive symptoms may be more affected by negative self-evaluation compared with the general population. CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: Intervention efforts may benefit from being tailored to negative self-evaluations.