Acute stress and PTSD among trauma-exposed children and adolescents: Computational prediction and interpretation

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Background: Youth receiving medical care for injury are at risk of PTSD. Therefore, accurate prediction of chronic PTSD at an early stage is needed. Machine learning (ML) offers a promising approach to precise prediction and interpretation. Aims: The study proposes a clinically useful predictive model for PTSD 6–12 months after injury, analyzing the relationship among predictors, and between predictors and outcomes. Methods: A ML approach was utilized to train models based on 1167 children and adolescents of nine perspective studies. Demographics, trauma characteristics and acute traumatic stress (ASD) symptoms were used as initial predictors. PTSD diagnosis at six months was derived using DSM-IV PTSD diagnostic criteria. Models were validated on external datasets. Shapley value and partial dependency plot (PDP) were applied to interpret the final model. Results: A random forest model with 13 predictors (age, ethnicity, trauma type, intrusive memories, nightmares, reliving, distress, dissociation, cognitive avoidance, sleep, irritability, hypervigilance and startle) yielded F-scores of.973,0.902 and.961 with training and two external datasets. Shapley values were calculated for individual and grouped predictors. A cumulative effect for intrusion symptoms was observed. PDP showed a non-linear relationship between age and PTSD, and between ASD symptom severity and PTSD. A 43 % difference in the risk between non-minority and minority ethnic groups was detected. Conclusions: A ML model demonstrated excellent classification performance and good potential for clinical utility, using a few easily obtainable variables. Model interpretation gave a comprehensive quantitative analysis on the operations among predictors, in particular ASD symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102642
JournalJournal of Anxiety Disorders
Early online date27 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Acute stress
  • Computational interpretation
  • Machine learning
  • PTSD
  • Prediction

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