The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced widespread societal changes that have required ongoing adaptation. Unsurprisingly, stress-related psychopathology has increased during the pandemic, in both children and adults. We review these patterns through the lens of several leading conceptual models of the link between stress and psychopathology. Some of these models focus on characteristics of environmental stressors—including cumulative risk, specific stressor types, and stress sensitization approaches. Understanding the specific aspects of environmental stressors that are most likely to lead to psychopathology can shed light on who may be in most need of clinical intervention. Other models center on factors that can buffer against the onset of psychopathology following stress and the mechanisms through which stressors contribute to emergent psychopathology. These models highlight specific psychosocial processes that may be most usefully targeted by interventions to reduce stress-related psychopathology. We review evidence for each of these stress models in the context of other widescale community-level disruptions, like natural disasters and terrorist attacks, alongside emerging evidence for these stress pathways from the COVID-19 pandemic. We discuss clinical implications for developing interventions to reduce stress-related psychopathology during the pandemic, with a focus on brief, digital interventions that may be more accessible than traditional clinical services.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is heritable and a potential consequence of exposure to traumatic stress. Evidence suggests that a quantitative approach to PTSD phenotype measurement and incorporation of lifetime trauma exposure (LTE) information could enhance the discovery power of PTSD genome-wide association studies (GWASs).
A GWAS on PTSD symptoms was performed in 51 cohorts followed by a fixed-effects meta-analysis (N = 182,199 European ancestry participants). A GWAS of LTE burden was performed in the UK Biobank cohort (N = 132,988). Genetic correlations were evaluated with linkage disequilibrium score regression. Multivariate analysis was performed using Multi-Trait Analysis of GWAS. Functional mapping and annotation of leading loci was performed with FUMA. Replication was evaluated using the Million Veteran Program GWAS of PTSD total symptoms.
GWASs of PTSD symptoms and LTE burden identified 5 and 6 independent genome-wide significant loci, respectively. There was a 72% genetic correlation between PTSD and LTE. PTSD and LTE showed largely similar patterns of genetic correlation with other traits, albeit with some distinctions. Adjusting PTSD for LTE reduced PTSD heritability by 31%. Multivariate analysis of PTSD and LTE increased the effective sample size of the PTSD GWAS by 20% and identified 4 additional loci. Four of these 9 PTSD loci were independently replicated in the Million Veteran Program.
Through using a quantitative trait measure of PTSD, we identified novel risk loci not previously identified using prior case-control analyses. PTSD and LTE have a high genetic overlap that can be leveraged to increase discovery power through multivariate methods.
Autonomic nervous system reactivity has been posited to be a mechanism contributing to social and emotional problems among children exposed to early adversity. Leveraging data from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, a longitudinal randomized controlled trial of foster care versus institutional care of abandoned children in Romania, we assessed whether altered sympathetic reactivity to peer rejection feedback in early adolescence mediated the relation between early institutional rearing and peer problems in later adolescence. We also assessed whether adolescent friendship quality or randomized placement in foster care early in life moderated these associations. Participants include 68 institutionalized children randomized to care as usual, 68 institutionalized children randomized to foster care, and 135 never-institutionalized children. At age 12, participants reported friendship quality with respect to a best friend and completed a social rejection task while electrocardiogram and impedance cardiography were recorded. Sympathetic nervous system reactivity to rejection feedback was assessed using preejection period (PEP). At ages 12 and 16, peer problems were reported by parents. Mediation analysis revealed that less PEP reactivity to social rejection at age 12 partially mediated the association between early institutionalization and greater peer problems at age 16. Further moderated mediation analysis revealed that this indirect effect was evidenced among previously institutionalized youths with low, but not high, quality friendships. We did not observe foster care intervention effects. These findings suggest that altered sympathetic reactivity to social rejection might be a mechanism linking early institutionalization to social difficulties into adolescence, however, positive adolescent friendships may buffer these effects. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)
The central goal of clinical psychology is to reduce the suffering caused by mental health conditions. Anxiety, mood, psychosis, substance use, personality, and other mental disorders impose an immense burden on global public health and the economy. Tackling this burden will require the development and dissemination of intervention strategies that are more effective, sustainable, and equitable. Clinical psychology is uniquely poised to serve as a transdisciplinary hub for this work. But rising to this challengerequires an honest reckoning with the strengths and weaknesses of current training practices. Building on new data, we identify the most important challenges to training the next generation of clinical scientists. We provide specific recommendations for the full spectrum of stakeholders—from funders, accreditors, and universities to program directors, faculty, and students—with an emphasis on sustainable solutions that promote scientific rigor and discovery and enhance the mental health of clinical scientists and the public alike.
Exposure to early-life adversity (ELA) is associated with elevated risk for depression and anxiety disorders in adolescence. Identifying mechanisms through which ELA contributes to the emergence of depression and anxiety is necessary to design preventive interventions. One potential mechanism linking exposure to ELA with psychopathology is accelerated pubertal development. Exposure to trauma—specifically interpersonal violence—is associated with earlier pubertal timing, which in turn predicts adolescent-onset depression and anxiety disorders. We review the recent literature on adversity and accelerated pubertal development, exploring specific associations between trauma and accelerated pubertal development as a mechanism linking adversity with depression and anxiety disorders in adolescence. Finally, we suggest future directions for research exploring mechanisms linking ELA with accelerated pubertal development as well as pubertal timing and psychopathology in adolescence.
Background: Altered DNA methylation (DNAm) may be one pathway through which early-life adversity (ELA) contributes to adverse mental and physical health outcomes. This study investigated whether the presence versus absence of ELA experiences reflecting the dimensions of threat and deprivation were associated with epigenome- wide DNAm cross-sectionally and longitudinally in a community-based sample of children and adolescents.
Methods: In 113 youths aged 8–16 years with wide variability in ELA, we examined associations of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional; indicating threat-related experiences) and neglect (emotional, physical; indicating deprivation- related experiences) with DNAm assessed with the Illumina EPIC BeadChip array, with DNA derived from saliva. In cross-sectional epigenome-wide analyses, we investigated associations of lifetime abuse and neglect with DNAm at baseline. In longitudinal epigenome-wide analyses, we examined whether experiencing abuse and neglect over an approximately 2-year follow-up were each associated with change in DNAm from baseline to follow-up.
Results: In cross-sectional analyses adjusting for lifetime experience of neglect, lifetime experience of abuse was associated with DNAm for four cytosine-phosphodiester-guanine (CpG) sites (cg20241299: coefficient = 0.023, SE = 0.004; cg08671764: coefficient = 0.018, SE = 0.003; cg27152686: coefficient = − 0.069, SE = 0.012; cg24241897: coefficient = − 0.003, SE = 0.001; FDR < .05). In longitudinal analyses, experiencing neglect over follow-up was associ- ated with an increase in DNAm for one CpG site, adjusting for abuse over follow-up (cg03135983: coefficient = 0.036, SE = 0.006; FDR < .05).
Conclusions: In this study, we identified examples of epigenetic patterns associated with ELA experiences of threat and deprivation that were already observable in youth. We provide novel evidence for change in DNAm over time in relation to ongoing adversity and that experiences reflecting distinct ELA dimensions may be characterized by unique epigenetic patterns.
Keywords: Threat, Deprivation, Abuse, Neglect, DNA methylation