Objective: To identify developmental trajectories of anxiety symptoms for adolescent girls and boys. Trajectories were compared with regard to early-adolescent risk factors and psychiatric outcomes during adolescence and in young adulthood. Method: A community sample of 2,230 adolescents was assessed three times across a 6-year interval (10-17 years). Symptom scores of anxiety were analyzed with growth mixture models, stratified by gender. Results: Three gender-specific anxiety trajectories were identified for both girls (93.3% low, 4.1% mid-adolescence limited, 2.6% mid-adolescence increasing) and boys (84.4% low, 9.5% mid-adolescence limited, 6.1% early-adolescence decreasing). Child, family and peer factors at baseline predicted group membership of the mid-adolescence limited anxiety trajectory and the early-adolescence decreasing anxiety trajectory in boys. Parental emotional problems predicted the early-adolescence anxiety increase trajectory in girls. Prevalence of anxiety disorders and depression during adolescence and in early adulthood was higher in both the mid-adolescence limited and the mid-adolescence anxiety increase trajectory. Conclusions: The longitudinal course of anxiety symptoms during adolescence is characterized by three distinct gender-specific developmental trajectories. The identification of high-risk anxiety trajectories and their determinants could provide valuable information for prevention programs.
We assessed if the Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale (RCADS) measures anxiety symptoms similarly across age groups within adolescence. This is crucial for valid comparison of anxiety levels between different age groups. Anxiety symptoms were assessed biennially in a representative population sample (n=2226) at three time points (age range 10-17 years) using the RCADS anxiety subscales (generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD], panic disorder [PD], separation anxiety [SA], social phobia [SP]). We examined longitudinal measurement invariance of the RCADS, using longitudinal confirmatory factor analysis, by examining the factor structure (configural invariance), factor loadings (metric invariance) and thresholds (strong invariance). We found that all anxiety subtypes were configural invariant. Metric invariance held for items on the GAD, OCD, PD and SA subscales; yet, for the SP subscale three items showed modest longitudinal variation at age 10-12. Model fit decreased modestly when enforcing additional constraints across time; however, model fit for these models was still adequate to excellent. We conclude that the RCADS measures anxiety symptoms similarly across time in a general population sample of adolescents; hence, measured changes in anxiety symptoms very likely reflect true changes in anxiety levels. We consider the instrument suitable to assess anxiety levels across adolescence.
Anxiety and depressive problems have often been related to higher hypothalamic— pituitary—adrenal (HPA)-axis activity (basal morning cortisol levels and cortisol awakening response [CAR]) and externalizing problems to lower HPA-axis activity. However, associations appear weaker and more inconsistent than initially assumed. Previous studies from the Tracking Adolescents Individual Lives Study (TRAILS) suggested sex-differences in these relationships and differential associations with specific dimensions of depressive problems in a general population sample of children (10—12 years). Using the TRAILS population sample (n = 1604), we tested hypotheses on the association between single day cortisol (basal morning levels and CAR) and specifically constructed dimensions of anxiety (cognitive versus somatic), depressive (cognitive-affective versus somatic), and externalizing problems (reactive versus proactive aggression), and explored the modifying role of sex. Moreover, we repeated analyses in an independent same-aged clinic-referred sample (n = 357). Structural Equation Modeling was used to investigate the association between cortisol and higher- and lower-order (thus, broad and specific) problem dimensions based on self-reports in an integrated model. Overall, findings were consistent across the population and clinic-referred samples, as well as with the existing literature. Most support was found for higher cortisol (mainly CAR) in relation to depressive problems. However, in general, associations were weak in both samples. Therefore, the present results shed doubt on the relevance of single day cortisol measurements for problem behaviors in the milder range. Associations may be stronger in more severe or persistent psychopathology.