Experiential Avoidance Predicts Persistence of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Late Adolescence

Objective: Experiential avoidance (EA) is a transdiagnostic construct that may underlie the high comorbidity between major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This analysis used data from a longitudinal study (conducted September 2010–April 2016) to examine whether adolescent EA varies by MDD and GAD symptomatology trajectory and predicts said trajectories. Longitudinal associations between EA, anxiety, and depression symptoms were also examined.

Methods: Adolescents aged 15 to 20 years (N = 183) were followed for 2 years using a comprehensive assessment battery. Symptom trajectory modeling, using weekly symptom ratings, identified 4 MDD and 4 GAD trajectories that were collapsed to form combined MDD/GAD trajectory groups: Persistent (n = 81), High-Decreasing (n = 44), Normal-Increasing (n = 37), and Minimal (n = 21). Group-based trajectory modeling, analyses of covariance, structural equation modeling, and linear regression analyses were performed. DSM-IV-TR criteria were used for MDD and GAD diagnoses.

Results: The Persistent adolescents had higher EA than other groups (P values ≤ .001), with greater EA stability versus High-Decreasing adolescents (P = .008). EA predicted anxiety and depressive symptoms alike (P values ≤ .005), which in turn did not predict EA (P values ≥ .188). EA, at both time points, predicted combined MDD/GAD trajectories after adjustment for depressive and anxiety symptoms and other confounders (P values < .001).

Conclusions: EA appears to be an important predictor of MDD and GAD symptomatology in older adolescents, potentially serving as a treatment target. Findings suggest a possible trait-like nature for EA, perhaps increasing risk for the emergence and persistence of MDD and/or GAD.

Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02147184

J Clin Psychiatry 2019;80(6):18m12265

https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.18m12265