Research showing popular kids become more socially anxious adults may illuminate the condition’s origins. But what sufferers actually need is help

• Kamran Ahmed is a psychiatrist and film-maker

A fascinating study from the University of Virginia has shed new light on the much-ignored problem of social anxiety. In 169 adolescents assessed at the age of 15 and followed up for 10 years, the researchers found a strong relationship between close friendships in adolescence and fewer social anxiety symptoms at age 25. On the other hand, in adolescence “peer affiliation preference” – or popularity, as most of us call it – was found to predict more social anxiety symptoms in adulthood.

Related: Facebook and Twitter ‘harm young people’s mental health’

US studies have found a population prevalence of up to 12%, making it the third most common mental-health condition

Related: Girls suffer under pressure of online ‘perfection’, poll finds

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