Elementary school girls with particular emotional and behavioral symptoms, including irritability, were significantly more likely to experience anxiety disorders in adolescence and young adulthood, based on data from a network analysis of 932 girls.
Data from previous studies suggest that targeting emotional problems in early childhood might prevent mental health disorders in young adults, wrote Alexandra Rouquette, MD, PhD, of Paris-Saclay University, Paris, and her colleagues. “However, these interventions are challenging to implement because we lack knowledge on which specific childhood symptoms have predictive associations with adult psychopathologic disorders,” they said.
In the study, published in, the researchers used data from an ongoing longitudinal prospective analysis of kindergarten children in the Canadian province of Quebec to assess potential “bridge symptoms,” defined as those that might affect the development of anxiety later in life. The study population included 932 girls whose parents completed the Social Behavior Questionnaire (SBQ) at baseline when the girls were 6 years old, and again at ages 8 and 10 years. Of these, 780 participants underwent screening for mental health disorders at age 15 and/or 22 years.
Of the 780 participants assessed at follow-up, 270 (35%) had developed at least one anxiety disorder, and 128 (16%) had developed at least one diagnosis of major depression or another depressive disorder.
The researchers used a network analysis technique to review 33 items in the SBQ and how they related to future anxiety disorders.– as having “a distinctive position in the network because most of the direct relationships between the disruptive and internalized communities transited through them.”
In addition, children who were disobedient, irritable, and not liked by others had the strongest and earliest association with anxiety disorders over time, the researchers said. By contrast, the kicks disruptive symptom in early childhood was a negative predictor of anxiety disorders at follow-up.
The study findings were limited by several factors, including the relatively small study population, the number of statistical tests performed, and the challenges of identifying anxiety disorders at follow-up. However, the results support the potential role of childhood bridge symptoms in later life anxiety, the researchers said. “Clinicians may wish to focus on these bridge symptoms when assessing patients,” they noted, because those symptoms could be “early targets in disease-prevention and health-promotion interventions.”
The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. The study was funded by a grant to Dr. Rouquette from the OpenHealth Institute.
SOURCE: Rouquette A et al. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Aug 15. .