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  • Writer's pictureNick Allen

Anxiety screening now recommended for all adults

Just yesterday, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a recommendation that providers screen for anxiety in all adults (the data available specifically refers to ages 64 and younger). This decision is certainly supported by the striking statistics available on anxiety and mental health as a whole. To start, at least 40% of women and 26% of men suffer from anxiety at some point in their lifetime. I say “at least” because this is likely an undercount. There remains a stigma associated with anxiety and other mental health disorders, and this is a major reason why many cases of anxiety go undiagnosed.

This failure to diagnose is a big part of why screening is so important. One study cited by the USPSTF stated that the median delay for an American with anxiety disorder to be diagnosed and receive treatment is 23 years. This study also only counted people who eventually received treatment, meaning the actual situation is far more grim.

Another key component when evaluating the need for screening is the existence of adequate treatment. There’s little use screening for something that can’t be treated, but anxiety disorders (and many mental health disorders) actually have many proven options for management. Multiple medication classes have well-documented efficacy for anxiety, and even those who wish to steer clear from pills can see significant improvements through structured mindfulness practices or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). One significant problem remains the relative lack of mental health providers in the United States, a clear manifestation of our failure to invest in population health. This is something that must be remedied fast, or patients identified via screening will have fewer options for treatment.

The bottom line? Physicians already should have been having these conversations with their patients, and this recommendation only formalizes what we already knew. The mental health crisis we were already facing has deepened over the last few years. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this is that we generally know how to help the one in five adults that suffer from mental illness every year in the United States. It is identifying them and connecting them with treatment where we fall short. While systemic change is needed, hopefully this recommendation represents the first step in the right direction.


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