Panel recommends anxiety screening for adults under 65

(NewsNation) — A panel of medical experts said Tuesday for the first time that adults younger than 65 should be routinely screened for anxiety — guidance that highlights the growing problem of mental health abnormalities in the United States.

The draft recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are designed to help physicians identify signs of anxiety using questionnaires and screening tools. It comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated health issues for many people who were isolated and stuck indoors for the better part of two years.

The task force notes that anxiety disorders often begin in adolescence, sometimes as early as age 11, and on average go untreated for more than 20 years. One study cited by the task force found just 40% of patients with an anxiety disorder were receiving treatment.

“This is a great recommendation,” said Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist. “Without recognition, these people will never get to treatment.”

Saltz was joined by Summit Ministries President Dr. Jeff Myers on “NewsNation Prime” on Tuesday to discuss the task force’s draft recommendation, which is open for public comment through Oct. 17.

Saltz said that while early detection is one piece of the puzzle for anxiety treatment, she raised the question of where people will go for services. Over one-third of Americans live in areas where there is a shortage of mental health providers, according to one analysis of federal health data.

“Mental health providers are overrun,” she said, “and there’s tremendous burnout for primary care physicians who are now going to have another thing on their plate.”

Myers, whose faith-based organization helps youth strengthen world view, said there’s a social aspect to the problem, as well.

“Seventy-five percent of these young adults say they don’t have a sense of purpose that gives them meaning in life,” Myers said. “Students are telling me, ‘I feel like I’m at war with myself.'”

The task force’s recommendation also noted a gender gap, with lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders in adults at 26.4% for men and 40.4% for women. Saltz suggested that both biological and cultural factors could be at play.

“This gap really increases post-puberty, so hormonal differences may play a role,” Saltz said. “Women these days are expected to do it all … and so I think the pressure that women are under culturally is somewhat different than men.”

For adults older than 65, the panel said there was no clear evidence regarding the effectiveness of screening because symptoms are usually identical to signs of aging, nor was there clear evidence on whether depression screening would prevent suicides.


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