U.S. health task force calls for routine anxiety screening for all adults under 65

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – According to the latest draft recommendation by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, routine screenings are considered beneficial for adults under 65, including pregnant and postpartum women without symptoms.

Anxiety disorders are characterized by greater duration or intensity of a stress response over everyday events. The hope is that brief screening tools could help identify it early, especially since most who suffer, on average, are diagnosed decades after symptoms first start.

Anxiety disorders are considered the most common mental illness in the country, affecting nearly 50 million people. Although, that data is based on research done before the pandemic. Many now consider mental health in our country a crisis.

“Pandemic anxiety and panic and phobia increased at least 30% more than before,” said Dr. Asim Shah, Baylor College of Medicine Psychiatry Professor and Executive Vice Chair. “2020 and 2021 was the worst year for anxiety.”

Shah said it’s critical to train primary care doctors to be aware of the basic treatment of anxiety and depression to reduce the mental health burden.

Although, there’s really no plan to begin screening or training doctors to follow through with anxiety treatments.

The Department of State Health Services issues guidance for postpartum depression up to a year after a woman gives birth. However, they said there are no plans to do the same for anxiety screenings.

“Easy to say, ‘Do this and do that.’ Do [doctors] have time to do that? And even if they do, even if they carve out the time to do it, where will they refer the patient? They may not have the expertise to treat anxiety disorders,” Dr. Shah said.

Seeking therapy on your own sheds light on a different issue. There’s a shortage of mental health professionals right now, and often long wait times to see someone.

Dr. Shah said if you have mild symptoms, it’s ok to use the mental health apps like Talkspace, Better Help, Teledoc, or many others to find a therapist online. Check with your company to see if they have an employee assistance program (EAP) that may help cover some sessions.

“Don’t treat your anxiety yourself, go and see a qualified physician and get help. Anxiety can also be treated by psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. There are many options and it is certainly a treatable disease,” Dr. Shah said.

Healthy ways to cope with anxiety include:

  • Identify your triggers - what are situations or circumstances that increase your stress?
  • Make sleep a priority and maintain a healthy diet.
  • And if you find your anxiety interfering with anything in your life, seek help from a doctor and develop a treatment plan.

Why isn’t this screening being used in people over 65?

Dr. Shah says that the symptoms of anxiety may be similar to other symptoms people over 65 have with other things: Difficulty concentrating or sleeping.