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The general relationship between internalizing psychopathology and chronic physical health conditions: a population-based study


Studies have consistently demonstrated a reciprocal relationship between internalizing disorders and several chronic physical health conditions. Yet, much of the extant literature fails to take into account the role of comorbidity among internalizing disorders when examining the relationship with poor physical health. The current study applied latent variable modelling to investigate the shared and specific relationships between internalizing (fear and distress factors) and a range of physical health conditions. Data comprised 8841 respondents aged 16–85 years who took part in the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Multiple indicator, multiple causes models were used to parse the shared and specific relationships between internalizing disorders and variables associated with poor physical health. The study found that several physical conditions were significantly related to mean levels of fear and distress. The results were broadly similar but minor differences emerged depending on whether lifetime or past 12 months indicators of mental disorders and physical conditions were utilized in the model. Finally, the results demonstrated that the association between individual mental disorders and physical health conditions are better accounted for by indirect relationships with broad transdiagnostic dimensions rather than including additional disorder-specific relationships. The results indicate that researchers should focus on common mechanisms across multiple internalizing disorders and poor physical health when developing prevention and treatment initiatives.

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Correspondence to Matthew Sunderland.

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van de Pavert, I., Sunderland, M., Luijten, M. et al. The general relationship between internalizing psychopathology and chronic physical health conditions: a population-based study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 52, 1257–1265 (2017).

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  • Internalizing
  • Comorbidity
  • Physical health
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco use
  • Latent variable models