Mental disorders as networks of problems: a review of recent insights

Eiko I Fried, Claudia D van Borkulo, Angélique O J Cramer, Lynn Boschloo, Robert A Schoevers, Denny Borsboom

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


PURPOSE: The network perspective on psychopathology understands mental disorders as complex networks of interacting symptoms. Despite its recent debut, with conceptual foundations in 2008 and empirical foundations in 2010, the framework has received considerable attention and recognition in the last years.

METHODS: This paper provides a review of all empirical network studies published between 2010 and 2016 and discusses them according to three main themes: comorbidity, prediction, and clinical intervention.

RESULTS: Pertaining to comorbidity, the network approach provides a powerful new framework to explain why certain disorders may co-occur more often than others. For prediction, studies have consistently found that symptom networks of people with mental disorders show different characteristics than that of healthy individuals, and preliminary evidence suggests that networks of healthy people show early warning signals before shifting into disordered states. For intervention, centrality-a metric that measures how connected and clinically relevant a symptom is in a network-is the most commonly studied topic, and numerous studies have suggested that targeting the most central symptoms may offer novel therapeutic strategies.

CONCLUSIONS: We sketch future directions for the network approach pertaining to both clinical and methodological research, and conclude that network analysis has yielded important insights and may provide an important inroad towards personalized medicine by investigating the network structures of individual patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders/diagnosis
  • Models, Psychological


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