The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, a national panel of experts, has recommended that doctors regularly screen all adults under age 65 for anxiety. They believe it should be part of people’s annual checkup. Folks regularly go as long as 23 years experiencing physiological symptoms of anxiety without being diagnosed.
“Your brain is part of your body, so it turns out that that is actually also physical health,” said Dr. Shanda Wells, a clinical psychologist for the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “There are things like differences in breathing, gastrointestinal distress, sweatiness, all of those things can be symptoms of anxiety but people may not recognize them as that. Anxiety is our most common mental health disorder.”
The new screening method wouldn’t be invasive. It’s just 10 questions. It doesn’t diagnose anxiety disorders like social anxiety disorder or panic disorder. But, it’s a useful preliminary tool that helps the doctor know that a person needs more help.
The method has limitations. The task force does not think the screening method would benefit people over 65. They also don’t believe it would help prevent suicide.
“The Task Force cares deeply about the mental health of people nationwide,” said member Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe in the panel’s statement. “Unfortunately, evidence is limited on screening adults 65 or older for anxiety and screening all adults for suicide risk, so we are urgently calling for more research.”
The American Psychological Association found that rates of anxiety and depression were four times higher from April 2020 to August 2021 than they were in 2019. However, these recommendations are based on findings from before the pandemic. Anxiety has been on the rise for many years. It can still be considered taboo to speak about mental health. But anxiety has massive ramifications for health, so it’s essential to have an open discussion about it.
“Screening all adults for depression, including those who are pregnant and postpartum, and screening adults younger than 65 for anxiety, can help identify these conditions early so people can be connected to care,” Task Force member Dr. Lori Pbert said in a statement about the draft recommendation.
“There’s so many gaps in terms of providing mental health care, and our hope is that this group of recommendations will elevate that,” said Dr. Pbert. “Our hope is that by raising awareness of these issues and having recommendations for clinicians, that we’ll be able to help all adults in the U.S., including those who experience disparities.”
The public can comment on the recommendations through Oct. 17. You can leave your thoughts here. The task force will be reading every comment.