The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends anxiety screening for everyone

Key Takeaways

  • The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that youth over the age of seven should have routine anxiety screening.
  • This follows recommendations that adults under the age of 65 should also undergo routine screening.
  • Treatment of anxiety in children may result in lower mental health outcomes later.
  • Anxiety among children and adolescents has increased in recent years, partly due to the epidemic.

In September 2022, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) drafted a statement recommending routine screening for anxiety in adults younger than 65 years of age. and published similar recommendations for children in October.

The guidance comes after the USPSTF commissioned a review looking at youth screening for anxiety disorders to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks, particularly among youth who show no recognizable signs or symptoms of the condition.

Based on research findings, the USPSTF now recommends routine screening for anxiety in children older than age eight, but current evidence is insufficient to evaluate the benefits and harms of routinely evaluating children age seven and younger for anxiety.

The USPSTF’s advice signals just how real the U.S. mental health crisis is and holds promise for the necessary expansion of care.

Screening of young people

More research may be needed to find out how often routine screening should be done. However, while repeated screening may be best for children and adolescents with risk factors of concern, opportunistic screenings are better for children and adolescents who have less frequent health care visits.

For younger people who may have anxiety, there are several possible treatments. These include various psychotherapies, of which cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common, and medication. Duloxetine (Cymbalta), an SNRI, is the only one approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat generalized anxiety disorder in children age seven and older.

Daniela Mercado Bvid, Ph.D

Regular mental health screenings will also help to normalize mental health and reduce the stigma around taking proactive steps to care for…

– Daniela Mercado Bvid, Ph.D

Reasons for screening young people include that doing so can help reduce future burden. People who develop anxiety disorders in childhood are more likely to develop further anxiety disorders or depression, so addressing anxiety earlier can help in the long run.

These screenings are not intended to diagnose anxious youth, per se, but to identify those who may need more support. Currently, there are several standardized questionnaires that clinicians can use to screen children and youth for mental health conditions such as anxiety. These include the Screen for Child Anxiety Disorders and the PHQ-9 questionnaire.

“Like taking your car in for a service to monitor safety and prevent a future breakdown, routine anxiety screening can help identify early mental health warning signs,” explains Daniela Mercado Bevid, Ph.D., of Holly Health. “Based on screening results, primary care physicians can identify symptoms and then signpost them to an appropriate mental health professional.”

“As we know, many mental health problems begin in childhood, and so regular screening for anxiety sounds like a positive development,” says Elena Turoni, PhD, a consulting psychologist and founder of the Chelsea Psychology Clinic. “The only caveat is that there are obviously different developmental stages. For this reason, it is important to use a measure that reaches clinical thresholds and does not pathologize children.”

Anxiety arises

The study comes after the USPSTF recommends screening adults younger than 65 for anxiety. Their recommendations are designed to help clinicians identify early signs of anxiety during routine care with questionnaires and other screening tools. This is partly because anxiety disorders often go undiagnosed.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting millions. In terms of children, anxiety and depression have increased in children over the past five years, both before and after the pandemic. From 2016 to 2019, anxiety among children and adolescents increased by 29%.

Anxiety can have many causes. There has been an increase in the number of young people whose parents have left, refused or changed jobs, as well as an increase in the number of young people experiencing racial or ethnic discrimination. And of course, from 2020, the pandemic will be a factor.

“According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic has triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide,” explained Dr. Mercado Beivid. “A major trigger was the unprecedented increase in social isolation, coupled with fear of infection and financial worries.”

Changing how we manage anxiety

While the stigma surrounding mental health conditions like anxiety hasn’t gone away, people are more open about their mental health than they used to be. As we feel more comfortable talking about things like anxiety than before, we can start to be more proactive in dealing with them.

Instead, “regular mental health screenings will also help normalize mental health and reduce the stigma around taking proactive steps to care for it — the same way we do for physical health,” says Dr. Mercado Bivid.

The only caveat I would give with screening for anxiety or depression in children, not all anxiety or depression requires medication,” says Kendall Roach, MA LPC, therapist at Babylon. “Sometimes, just provide an outside, neutral source for the child. Talking to them or making some positive changes in their environment can help reduce negative symptoms and increase positive coping skills.”

Among other things, more research should be done to determine the ideal frequency of screening and whether there would be any benefit to screening children under the age of eight, but with concerns about increasing screening of children and adolescents – and indeed adults – it would be a good idea. It seems.

At the same time, however, we should look at the reasons for concern. What can be done to improve the lives of children and youth?

What does this mean for you?

Anxiety appears to be on the rise among children and adolescents and has a variety of contributing factors. For these reasons and more, routine screenings can be a good idea and allow professionals to help young people before their anxiety becomes a major problem.

If you are concerned about yourself or your child, consult your doctor.

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