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BACKGROUND: International guidelines present overall symptom severity as the key dimension for clinical characterisation of major depressive disorder (MDD). However, differences may reside within severity levels related to how symptoms interact in an individual patient, called symptom dynamics. AIMS: To investigate these individual differences by estimating the proportion of patients that display differences in their symptom dynamics while sharing the same overall symptom severity. METHOD: Participants with MDD (n = 73; mean age 34.6 years, s.d. = 13.1; 56.2% female) rated their baseline symptom severity using the Inventory for Depressive Symptomatology Self-Report (IDS-SR). Momentary indicators for depressive symptoms were then collected through ecological momentary assessments five times per day for 28 days; 8395 observations were conducted (average per person: 115; s.d. = 16.8). Each participant's symptom dynamics were estimated using person-specific dynamic network models. Individual differences in these symptom relationship patterns in groups of participants sharing the same symptom severity levels were estimated using individual network invariance tests. Subsequently, the overall proportion of participants that displayed differential symptom dynamics while sharing the same symptom severity was calculated. A supplementary simulation study was conducted to investigate the accuracy of our methodology against false-positive results. RESULTS: Differential symptom dynamics were identified across 63.0% (95% bootstrapped CI 41.0-82.1) of participants within the same severity group. The average false detection of individual differences was 2.2%. CONCLUSIONS: The majority of participants within the same depressive symptom severity group displayed differential symptom dynamics. Examining symptom dynamics provides information about person-specific psychopathological expression beyond severity levels by revealing how symptoms aggravate each other over time. These results suggest that symptom dynamics may be a promising new dimension for clinical characterisation, warranting replication in independent samples. To inform personalised treatment planning, a next step concerns linking different symptom relationship patterns to treatment response and clinical course, including patterns related to spontaneous recovery and forms of disorder progression.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Psychiatry

Publication Date





157 - 163


Depression, individual differences, personalised assessment, precision psychiatry, symptom relationship patterns, Humans, Depressive Disorder, Major, Female, Adult, Male, Middle Aged, Severity of Illness Index, Ecological Momentary Assessment, Psychiatric Status Rating Scales, Self Report, Individuality, Young Adult