A US advisory group of medical experts recommended that all patients under the age of 65 be screened for anxiety for the first time, a major effort that hopes to expand mental health services as the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rise.
The group, the US Preventative Services Task Force, released its draft recommendation on Tuesday. The new directive, which is open to public comment, comes amid a series of difficulties in America, including the lingering effects of the pandemic, loss and inflation.
“To address the critical need for adult mental health support in primary care, the Task Force reviewed the evidence on screening for anxiety, depression and suicide risk,” said Dr. Lori Pbert, a member of the body, in a statement. “The good news is that screening all adults for depression, including those who are pregnant and postpartum, and screening adults under the age of 65 for anxiety can help identify these conditions early so that people can be connected to care.” .”
The panel, made up of 16 independent volunteer experts, is appointed by a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. Insurance companies are generally required to cover agency recommendations as part of the Affordable Care Act, notes The Wall Street Journal.
The task force also recommended that all adults be screened for depression.
The panel said there was not enough data to recommend screening for anxiety in adults over 65 when it drafted the new guideline.
Doctors generally use questionnaires to examine patients for mental health disorders, The New York Times reports. The task force’s recommendations would urge physicians to respond to reported signs of anxiety or depression and establish more assessments so that patients can be treated earlier.
Many patients can see a reduction in symptoms of anxiety or depression with screening and follow-up care, the task force said. The Times added that broad standards of mental health screening can also combat medical bias and racism, which has led to disproportionate levels of misdiagnosis for black and Hispanic patients.
The body noted that about a quarter of all men experience anxiety disorders during their lifetime and about 40% of all women (those figures, however, are based on data from 2001 and 2002).
More recent reports show rising levels of mental health disorders linked to the pandemic. According to a study cited by the panel, 36.4% of adults reported having anxiety or depressive disorders in August 2020, but that figure had risen to 41.5% by February 2021.
The task force also recommended in April that all children as young as 8 years old should be screened for anxiety.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, reports of anxiety disorders have increased worldwide. The World Health Organization said in March the global prevalence of anxiety and depression had risen by 25% in the virus’s first year, saying the data was just the “tip of the iceberg” when it came to global mental health.