Health experts say kids should be screened for this mental health malady
The United States Preventative Task Force says mental health problems have grown and kids need to be screened for anxiety and depression often
All kids ages 8 to 18 should be routinely screened for anxiety, according to a draft recommendation by the United States Preventative Task Force. The new recommendation joins the group’s recommendation since 2016 that kids should be screened for depression.
The burden largely would fall on pediatricians and family physicians to see that parents and children answer a standardized set of questions, depending on age.
“We were already seeing rising rates of anxiety, depression and also suicide behaviors and suicide in our young people,” Martha Kubik, a nursing professor at George Mason University and a task force member, told NPR.
Screening younger children wasn’t recommended because “evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening in children age 7 years or younger,” the group said.
The recommendation is being welcomed by medical professionals and their membership organizations as a chance to provide treatment early and prevent problems from growing.
“It is much easier for me as a mental health practitioner to treat a 5-year-old with separation anxiety, which I could probably treat in two sessions, than a 15-year-old who has both anxiety and depression, which is probably going to require 12 sessions,” Miguelina German, a pediatric psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told NPR’s Rhitu Chatterjee.
The screening is particularly important because children who aren’t showing signs of behavior problems sometimes have their mental health challenges overlooked, according to Stephen P.H. Whiteside, a child psychologist and director of the Pediatric Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Whiteside, who was not on the task force, told The New York Times that such screening is “really important. Most kids in need of mental health care don’t get it.”
While comprised of an influential group of health experts, the task force is not a government agency and cannot create mandates. Rather, it provides guidance, particularly to clinicians and others in the healthcare industry. The task force is taking public comment on the issue until May 9.
Anxiety and its sometimes-companion depression have been climbing among children and teens for several years. The Deseret News explored the issue in an award-winning yearlong project to discover why teens are more anxious than ever and how families and communities can help. “Generation Vexed” found girls may show noticeable anxiety, while anxious boys may instead appear to have behavior problems. And because anxiety tends to travel with other mental challenges, including both depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, treating anxiety benefits overall mental health.
The series includes a toolkit to help families deal with anxiety.