OBJECTIVE: Research evidence suggests the need to identify treatments based on a more precise characterization of psychopathology and psychiatric comorbidity in anorexia nervosa. Network analysis provides a new method to conceptualize psychopathology. We use this approach to investigate the relationships between eating disorder and general psychiatric symptoms in adolescents with anorexia nervosa.
METHODS: Four-hundred and five adolescents with anorexia nervosa and illness duration less than 3 years were consecutively recruited from those admitted to inpatient treatment. They completed the following questionnaires: the Eating Disorder Inventory-3, the Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children, the Children's Depression Inventory, and the Youth Self Report. A network analysis was conducted, including eating psychopathology measures, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress problems. We employ a novel approach, the bridge function, to identify symptom clusters.
RESULTS: Depression symptoms and personal alienation were the nodes with the highest centrality in the network, followed by asceticism, post-traumatic stress problems, drive to thinness, low self-esteem, and anxiety physical symptoms. Three symptom clusters (relative to eating disorder psychopathology, self-esteem problems, and internalizing difficulties) were identified. Depression symptoms, personal alienation, low self-esteem, and interoceptive deficits showed the highest bridge centrality. Besides eating disorder core symptoms, negative affect and internalizing symptoms seem to contribute to anorexia nervosa psychopathology independently from illness duration effects.
DISCUSSION: These findings suggest that anorexia nervosa is characterized by a broad psychopathological spectrum rather than the mere eating disorder core symptoms, confirm the need to re-conceptualize psychiatric comorbidity in this disorder, and provide intriguing diagnostic and therapeutic implications.