Traumatic events and mental health: The amplifying effects of pre-trauma systemic inflammation
Joshua M. Schrock, Thomas W. McDade, Adam W. Carrico, Richard T. D'Aquila, Brian Mustanski
Background: Traumatic experiences re strongly predictive of adverse mental health outcomes. Experimental studies have demonstrated that systemic inflammation can increase reactivity to threatening stimuli. It is not known whether naturally occurring inflammation amplifies the impact of traumatic experiences on mental health. Here we test whether incident traumatic events are more predictive of adverse mental health outcomes for individuals with greater pre-trauma systemic inflammation in a racially and ethnically diverse cohort study of youth assigned male at birth who identify as sexual or gender minorities (ages 16–29, n = 518), a group at high risk for trauma exposure.
Methods: Measures of inflammation, depression symptom severity, and perceived stress were measured at baseline. One year later, depression symptom severity and perceived stress were measured again, and participants reported the traumatic events they had experienced in the intervening year.
Results: In a model adjusted for baseline depression symptom severity and other key covariates, we found that higher baseline levels of interleukin-1β amplified the effect of incident trauma exposure on depression symptom severity at follow-up (β = 0.234, SE = 0.080, P = 0.004). In a model adjusted for baseline perceived stress and other key covariates, we found that higher baseline scores on a multi-marker inflammatory index amplified the effect of incident trauma exposure on perceived stress at follow-up (β = 0.243, SE = 0.083, P = 0.003).
Conclusion: These findings suggest that greater pre-trauma inflammation may predict poorer mental health following trauma exposure. Understanding how inflammation interacts with trauma to shape mental health may generate novel insights for preventing and treating the debilitating psychological consequences of trauma.