Gov’t task force recommends wide U.S. screening for anxiety disorders

In a first, a government panel recommends all adults under 65 be screen regularly for anxiety disorders.

Adults under the age of 65 should be screened for anxiety disorders and all adults should be checked for depression, a government-backed panel said, as many Americans report symptoms of these mental-health conditions following the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The draft guidance released Tuesday marks the first time that the United States Preventive Services Task Force has made a recommendation on screening adults for anxiety disorders. The move comes months after the task force issued similar draft guidance for children and adolescents.

“This is a really important step forward,” said Arthur C. Evans, chief executive at the American Psychological Association. “Screening for mental-health conditions is critical to our ability to help people at the earliest possible moment.”

The task force said that there wasn’t enough evidence on whether or not screening all adults without signs or symptoms ultimately helps prevent suicide. The group didn’t recommend for or against screening for suicide risk, but called for more research in the area.

The task force, a panel of 16 independent volunteer experts, issues guidance on preventive-care measures. Health insurers are often required to cover services recommended by the task force under a provision in the Affordable Care Act.

More than 30% of adults reported having symptoms of an anxiety disorder or depressive disorder this summer, according to estimates from the federal Household Pulse Survey. The percentage of U.S. adults who received mental-health treatment within the past 12 months increased to 22% in 2021, up from 19% in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mental-health screening often occurs in doctor’s offices, where patients fill out questionnaires during routine checkups or other appointments. The goal is to spot at-risk people who might not be showing obvious signs, so that the person can get the correct diagnosis and potentially get connected to care before they reach a crisis point.

As for people over 65, the article notes that “some anxiety-disorder screening questionnaires emphasize issues with sleep, pain and fatigue, which also often increase with age.” So screening older adults for those risk factors might turn up a lot of older people who are, you know, just regular old, tired and creaky.

It does strike me that they ought to come up with different a different screening regimen for older people, rather than just deciding to not issue screening recommendations as all.

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