US adults should be routinely screened for anxiety, panel says

US adults should be routinely screened for anxiety, panel says

US doctors should routinely screen all adults under 65 for anxiety, an influential health guidelines group proposed on Tuesday.

This is the first time the US Task Force on Preventive Services has recommended screening for anxiety in primary care for adults without symptoms. The proposal is open for public comment until October 17, but the group generally confirms its draft guidelines.

The recommendations are based on a review that began before the COVID-19 pandemic, evaluating studies showing the potential benefits and risks of screening. Given reports of an increase in mental health issues related to pandemic isolation and stress, the guidance is “very timely,” said task force member and co-author Lori Pbert. Medicine School.

The task force said the evidence for benefits, including effective treatments, outweighs any risks, including inaccurate screening results that could lead to unnecessary follow-up care.

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Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems, affecting about 40% of American women at some point in their lives and more than 1 in 4 men, Pbert noted.

Black people, people living in poverty, people who have lost their partners and those with other mental health issues are among the adults who are at higher risk of developing anxiety, which can manifest as panic attacks, phobias or a constant feeling of nervousness. Also, about 1 in 10 pregnant and postpartum women suffer from anxiety.

Common screening tools include brief questionnaires about symptoms such as fears and worries that interfere with usual activities. These can easily be administered in a primary care setting, the working group said, although it did not specify how often patients should be screened.

“The most important thing to recognize is that a screening test alone is not enough to diagnose anxiety,” Pbert said. The next step is further evaluation by a mental health professional, although Pbert acknowledged that finding mental health care can be difficult given a shortage of specialists.

Megan Whalen, a 31-year-old marketer who was diagnosed with anxiety in 2013, says regular doctors should screen for mental health issues as often as they do for physical ones.

“Health is health whether the problem is visible or not,” said Whalen, of Hoboken, New Jersey.

She received help from medicine and talk therapy, but her symptoms worsened during the pandemic and she temporarily returned home.

“The pandemic scared me to leave the house, my anxiety telling me that anywhere outside of my childhood home wasn’t safe,” Whelan said. , and I’m trying to handle it as best I can.”

The task force said there is not enough strong research in older adults to recommend or against screening for anxiety in people aged 65 and over.

The group continues to recommend screening for depression in adults and children, but said there was insufficient evidence to assess the potential benefits and harms of screening for suicide in adults who show no worrying symptom.

In April, the group published similar draft guidelines for children and adolescents, recommending screening for anxiety but saying more research is needed on the potential benefits and harms of suicide screening in children without signs. obvious.

Task force guidelines often determine insurance coverage, but anxiety is already on the radar of many primary care physicians. In 2020, a group affiliated with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended routine screening for anxiety in primary care for women and girls starting at age 13.

Melissa Lewis-Duarte, a wellness coach in Scottsdale, Arizona, says rhythmic breathing, meditation and making a daily list of three things to be grateful for have all contributed to her anxiety.

“Doctors say, ‘Make sure you’re sleeping, control your stress.’ Yeah, I get it,” but not everyone knows how, the 42-year-old mother of three said. “It’s hard to prioritize self-care, but that’s what’s needed.”


Follow AP Medical Editor Lindsey Tanner on @LindseyTanner.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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