With recent polls showing high levels of anxiety and depression amongst Americans, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USTF) has proposed depression screenings for all adults and anxiety screenings for those under 65 not experiencing recognizable symptoms.
The proposed measure intends to identify early signs of anxiety and depression in Americans who may not be exhibiting symptoms yet, but could benefit from mental health care.
“Screening all adults for depression, including those who are pregnant and postpartum, and screening adults younger than 65 for anxiety, can help identify these conditions early so people can be connected to care,” Task Force member Dr. Lori Pbert said in a statement about the draft recommendation.
The panel includes generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, phobias and selective mutism under the category of anxiety.
According to the panel, screening and follow-up care can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in most adults. However, currently, there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that these screenings would benefit people over the age of 65, the panel found. There is also little evidence that these screenings would work to prevent suicide in those without recognized symptoms.
“The Task Force cares deeply about the mental health of people nationwide,” said member Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe in the panel’s statement. “Unfortunately, evidence is limited on screening adults 65 or older for anxiety and screening all adults for suicide risk, so we are urgently calling for more research.”
Over time, studies on mental illness in the U.S. have confirmed just how common it is. In 2020, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that one-fifth of American adults experienced mental illness. Less than half of those adults received treatment, according to NAMI.
The panel acknowledged that these screenings would be a preliminary measure to help adults experiencing anxiety or depression.
“People who screen positive need further evaluation to determine if they have anxiety or depression,” the statement reads. “After diagnosis, people should participate in shared decision making with their healthcare professionals to identify the treatment or combination of treatments that are right for them, and then be monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that the chosen treatment is effective.”
The USTF is an independent panel of volunteer medical experts that makes evidence-based recommendations to improve Americans’ health through preventative clinical care, such as screenings, counseling and preventative medications.
The public can comment on the proposal for anxiety screenings until Oct. 17 here.