Panel says all US adults should be screened for anxiety

talking to therapist
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In an effort to address the growing mental health crisis in America, a group of medical experts is now recommending that adults under the age of 65 be regularly screened for anxiety.

The recommendation, issued Tuesday by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, applies to all adults age 19 years or older, even if they do not have a diagnosed mental health disorder or are not showing recognized signs or symptoms of anxiety.

It's the first time the task force has recommended anxiety screenings for adults without symptoms.

"Covid has taken a tremendous toll on the mental health of Americans," Lori Pbert, a task force member and clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, told The Washington Post. "This is a topic prioritized for its public health importance, but clearly there’s an increased focus on mental health in this country over the past few years."

Health experts say anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder.

Each anxiety disorder has its own unique symptoms, but all disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.

According to the task force, research shows screening and treatment can improve anxiety symptoms in people younger than 65.

Anxiety disorders are often unrecognized in primary care settings and years-long delays in treatment initiation occur, the task force said in its report. The earlier the signs of an anxiety disorder are identified, the earlier treatment can begin.

The task force made similar recommendations earlier this year to begin anxiety screening in children and teens.

Screening involves clinical questionnaires designed to assess a specific or several anxiety disorders. If the screening test is positive for anxiety, a confirmatory diagnostic assessment and follow-up with a mental health professional is required.

Treatment for anxiety disorders can include psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, a combination of both, or collaborative care. Several psychotherapy approaches have been used to treat anxiety; however, cognitive behavioral therapy is the most commonly used approach, the panel noted.

The task force's recommendations are open for public comment until Oct. 17.