Anxiety screenings might become a routine part of healthcare

Steven Loeb · September 20, 2022 · Short URL:

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends regular anxiety screenings for adults under 65

With the percentage of people with mental health conditions on the rise, it's becoming obvious that there needs to be a better way to identify patients who are suffering, and to get them help earlier, before whatever is bothering them becomes a full blown mental health crisis. 

As such, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine, is now recommending that these screenings become the standard of care going forward.

"The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force seeks comments on a draft recommendation statement and draft evidence review on screening for anxiety in adults. The Task Force determined that screening can help identify anxiety in adults younger than 65, including those who are pregnant and postpartum," the group wrote on Tuesday.

This follows a statement the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made in April, in which it recommended the same for children 8 and older.

The reason that given for not recommending regular anxiety screenings for adults over 65 at the moment is that, "more research is needed to recommend for or against screening for anxiety" in that age group.

The draft recommendation statement and draft evidence review are available for review and public comment until October 17. 

Created in 1984, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is made up of members from the fields of preventive medicine and primary care, including internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, behavioral health, obstetrics and gynecology, and nursing. Their recommendations are intended to help primary care clinicians and patients decide together whether a preventive service is right for a patient's needs and the Task Force makes an annual report to Congress that identifies evidence gaps in research related to clinical preventive services and recommends priority areas that deserve further examination. 

The group's statement does not go into more specifics about what those screenings would potentially look like, how they would be administered, or who would administer them, though they would presumably become part of regular primary care check-ups, through the use of the GAD-7.

This comes as the relationship between the primary care doctor and the patient is changing, and fewer people are developing a long-term relationship with a primary care doctor: more than 70% of Americans had primary care doctors in 2002 vs 64% in 2015. If there's no longer a primary care physician needed, who will be the front door to someone's healthcare journey?

That is especially true of younger people: while 84% of Baby Boomers have a primary care physician, that's true of 67% of Millennials, and only 55% of Gen Zers. 

Mental health problems were already on the rise before COVID, with nearly 20% of adults, or nearly 50 million Americans, already experiencing some form of mental illness, and there was already a growing problem among young people as well with more than 1 in 3 high school students having experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40 percent increase in 10 years. In the same timeframe, there was a 44% increase in youths who reported making a suicide plan. 

The pandemic, and its after effects, exacerbated the situation; according to the World Health Organization, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was also an increase in substance abuse issues with 99,000 people dying from drug overdoses in the first full year of the pandemic in the United States, a nearly 30% increase from the year before. Even cigarette sales grew for the first 10 months of 2020, after an annual decline of between 4% and 5% since 2015.  

(Vator will be holding its Future of Behavioral and Mental Health event in October with speakers that include Russ Glass from Headspace Health; Steve Gatena from; Ben Lewis from Limbix; Rebecca Egger from Little Otter; Divya Shah from Meta, and others. Register here to buy your ticket)

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