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Panel recommends routine anxiety screening for American adults under 65

In the first year of the pandemic, adults who reported being anxious shot up 25 percent worldwide.

MINNEAPOLIS — The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force researches health intervention systems to determine whether their benefits outweigh any harm. After looking into anxiety screenings, the group now recommends all adults under 65 get screened for anxiety during primary care visits — even if they don't have obvious symptoms.

The group released its draft guidance Tuesday, opening the research for public feedback in a period set to last through Oct. 17 before making a final recommendation.

Dr. Kaz J. Nelson is an associate professor in the University of Minnesota's Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department.

"They are able to now recommend this as a tool in the toolbox for health care providers," Nelson said. "If this indeed goes through, following this public comment, you'll start to see an additional questionnaire related to anxiety."

"It may be even a two-question item or in some cases, there are six questions asking about types of excessive worry or fear and how that might be affecting you emotionally or physically."

USPSTF already recommends screenings for:

• Depression in kids and teens

• Depression in adults

•  Suicide risk in teens, adults, older adults

Earlier this year, USPSTF issued similar draft guidance on anxiety screenings for kids and teens but said more research is needed on suicide risk screenings for kids with no obvious signs.

This new anxiety screening guidance doesn't apply to adults 65 and older. Nelson says people who are in that age group may want to get screened if they're concerned they have anxiety. However, she says to keep in mind that health systems are under "tremendous strain" right now.

"It is difficult timing right now to recommend this additional screening when the mental health, psychiatric services are unfortunately limited currently compared to the need," she said.

Nationally, anxiety disorders affect around 26 percent of men and around 40 percent of women over their lifetime. About one in 10 pregnant and postpartum women experience anxiety. 

Those at higher risk include Black people, people living in poverty, people who have lost partners, and those who have other mental health issues.


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