In an official recommendation announced Tuesday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – an independent panel of experts in primary care, prevention, and evidence-based medicine – proposed that all Americans under the age of 65 should receive routine anxiety screenings, noting that the potential benefits of screenings far outweigh any drawbacks.
It is the first time the advisory task force has extended such a recommendation to include people who may not be experiencing any symptoms at all, according to the Associated Press. The panel said their proposal aims to prevent undetected cases from going untreated for years, addressing the fact that anxiety is currently one of the chief mental health disorders nationwide.
“The most important thing to recognize is that a screening test alone is not sufficient to diagnose anxiety,” Dr. Lori Pbert, a task force member and co-author of the proposal, said. “The next step is a more thorough evaluation by a mental health professional.”
Dr. Pbert, who is also a psychologist-researcher at the University of Massachusetts’ Chan Medical School, added that while the proposal is based on research conducted prior to the pandemic, it is “very timely” given the increase in mental health issues, which she described as a “crisis” caused by Covid-19. Dr. Pbert also acknowledged the difficulty of finding and accessing quality care due to the nationwide shortage of specialists and high costs. She said the panel hopes their recommendation will “throw a spotlight on the need to create greater access to mental health care — and urgently.”
Medical experts say anxiety impacts around 40 percent of American women and more than one in four men over the course of their lifetimes. Those in marginalized communities, people of color, and anyone living under the poverty line in the U.S. are all shown to be at higher risk of developing anxiety disorders, which can involve persistent phobias and panic attacks, among other symptoms. Additionally, around 1 in 10 pregnant and postpartum women suffer from anxiety.
The task force is expected to formally adopt the proposed recommendation, but in the meantime, members of the public can submit their own feedback until October 17.