Analysis of data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) has concluded that children and adolescents who show persistent high levels of anxiety are more likely to develop psychotic disorders in their early 20s.

Psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia, are among the leading cause of disability, affecting 31% of people in England. Young people are especially likely to develop these disorders, doctors are uncertain why, although evidence suggests both genetic and environmental risk factors, including childhood trauma and drug misuse, contribute to their development.

Early diagnosis and treatment of anxiety could be the key to reducing risk

Published in Biological Psychiatry, the University of Birmingham research paper examined the link between persistent anxiety in childhood with individuals with psychotic experiences or psychotic disorders. The study findings suggest that persistent childhood anxiety may form a marker for the future development of a psychotic disorder, indicating treatment at this early stage may be invaluable in preventing and escalation of symptoms.

Lead author Isabel Morales-Muñoz, University of Birmingham, Institute for Mental Health, commented: “Persistent high levels of anxiety in childhood and adolescence are linked to subsequent psychosis, but we may be able to prevent psychosis by targeting and treating early anxiety.”

“Early diagnosis and management of adolescent anxiety and possibly novel treatments targeted at inflammation could be key actions to unlock treatment strategies that reduce the risk of children and adolescents going on to develop psychosis.”