Regular Adult Anxiety Screening, According to a Health Panel

For the first time, a prominent group of medical experts is advising that adults under the age of 65 get evaluated for anxiety in a gesture to the nation’s urgent mental health problem.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s draught guidelines are intended to assist primary care providers in spotting early indications of anxiety while providing routine treatment by using questionnaires and other screening methods.

In primary care, anxiety disorders are frequently underrecognized and missed: According to one research referenced by the task group, it takes an incredible 23 years on average to start receiving therapy for anxiety.

Despite the fact that the task force’s initial discussions on anxiety screening took place before the coronavirus pandemic, the task force member Lori Pbert, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts, said that the new guidance comes at a crucial time.

According to Pbert, “Covid has severely harmed Americans’ mental health.” Although there has been a definite increase in attention to mental health in this country over the past several years, this topic has been given priority because of its significance for public health.

Similar suggestions to start screening for anxiety in children and teens, aged 8 to 18, were issued by the task committee in April. The proposal made public on Tuesday is geared on young and middle-aged adults, including those who are expecting or recently gave birth, and it makes use of studies that demonstrates how screening and therapy can lessen anxiety symptoms in people under the age of 65.

Surprisingly, though, the advice does not advocate anxiety screening for those 65 and older.

One explanation is that many typical signs of ageing, such pain, weariness, and difficulty sleeping, can also be signs of anxiety. The task group claimed that there wasn’t enough data to assess screening instruments’ accuracy in older persons, who may not be sensitive enough to differentiate between anxiety symptoms and aging-related diseases.


When discussing anxiety with elderly patients, the task force encouraged doctors to use their best judgement. The task committee also recommended once more that routine depression screenings be conducted on adults of all ages.

Although its guidance is not required, the task force’s recommendations frequently alter how doctors practise medicine in the United States. The task force is an independent body of experts established by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Given that mental health professionals claim they already can’t keep up with patient demand and that clients frequently have to wait months for an appointment with a therapist, some doctors questioned how the proposals would actually work in practise.

As the executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds and a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Eugene Beresin remarked, “Screening is fantastic, but given the severe clinician shortage, it is confusing.

The World Health Organization revealed earlier this year that during the first year of the epidemic, the prevalence of anxiety and depression climbed globally by 25%. End of 2021: “The situation had considerably improved but today too many individuals remain unable to access the attention and support they need for both pre-existing and newly established mental health issues,” according to the WHO.

Anxiety can present as a variety of separate illnesses, including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and others. It is characterised by its physical symptoms of perspiration, heart palpitations, and stomach pain, as well as its recognisable sense of dread.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States experience one or more of these conditions annually, making them the most prevalent mental diseases in the country. Antidepressant or anxiety drugs, psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as different relaxation, mindfulness, and desensitisation techniques are all possible forms of treatment, according to doctors.

Although suicide is a leading cause of death for adults, the panel also looked at the advantages of screening patients for suicide risk and came to the conclusion that there is “insufficient data on whether screening persons without signs or symptoms will eventually assist prevent suicide.”

However, the panel recommended healthcare professionals to exercise their own clinical judgement when deciding whether or not to test particular individuals for a suicide risk.

A primary care physician may find it difficult to add another another screening test to a lengthy list of clinical duties as they are already dealing with burnout, pandemic-related stress, and their own mental health issues.

A nurse practitioner in Northern California who asked not to be identified because she did not have authorization from her clinic to discuss the matter said that “if primary care clinicians are expected to screen for one more item, we are going to break without more resources.”

She listed the current requirements, including confirming recent screenings for cervical, colon, and breast cancer as well as food insecurity, domestic abuse, alcohol usage, and tobacco use. She also mentioned treating patients with complex, chronic diseases during each 15-minute consultation.

When people test positive for sadness or anxiety, it “simply seems bad,” the professional added, “and we don’t have the mental health resources to help them.”

But Mahmooda Qureshi, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital, asserted that patients who are struggling with depression or anxiety will benefit from additional assistance.

According to Qureshi, who remarked that she now frequently inquires about her patients’ stress levels, “After 2020, it’s the uncommon patient who is not nervous.” We’ve discovered that when it comes to mental health, we frequently don’t know if we don’t inquire.

Less than “half of those who experience a mental illness will obtain mental health care,” the task group added, acknowledging the difficulties in providing mental health care to everyone who need it.

The panel also mentioned “structural policies” and “racism” as factors that disproportionately harm persons of colour. In comparison to other groups, Black patients are less likely to receive mental health services, and Black and Hispanic patients are more likely to have their mental health disorders misdiagnosed.

Pbert stated that the most recent recommendations is only one step in addressing the patients’ urgent mental health requirements. She added, “Our hope is that this set of suggestions can identify gaps in the evidence so funders can finance critically important research in these areas and raise awareness of the need to increase access to mental health treatment nationwide.”

The task group will review the suggested recommendations for final approval once the public response period ends on October 17.

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