GPs should refer children and young people to specialist mental health services 'without delay' if they show even short-lived symptoms suggestive of psychosis, according to a new NICE guideline published on Wednesday.
But it warned against prescribing antipsychotics for young patients where changes in mental state alone are not enough to make a diagnosis of psychosis or schizophrenia.
NICE said there is limited evidence of benefit in such patients and adverse events, including weight gain, may be more common. Instead, doctors should consider CBT or other treatments used in anxiety disorders and depression.
It is the first time NICE has issued guidance on the recognition and management of psychosis specifically in children and young people.
Around one in 250 children and adolescents aged 5-18 in the UK is believed to have a psychotic disorder.
NICE said these conditions can have a 'major detrimental effect on children and young people's personal, social, educational and occupational functioning'. The prognosis for psychosis and schizophrenia is worse when it begins in childhood or adolescence, the institute said.
Former GP Dr David Shiers, guideline co-author and advisor to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: 'The effect of psychosis and schizophrenia on a child cannot be underestimated. Nor can the heavy burden placed on their parents and carers.'
He urged GPs and psychiatrists to work collaboratively to support children and their families.