Kids ages 8 and up should be screened for anxiety, U.S. health panel recommends

Kids ages 8 and up should be screened for anxiety, U.S. health panel recommends


Aditi Shrikant

9 days ago at 8:46 PM

New guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children aged eight and older be screened for anxiety. The CDC says that anxiety is a common mental health condition that can affect children's physical, mental, and social well-being. The guidance also recommends that children with anxiety be treated with evidence-based therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication.

Earlier this week the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that primary care doctors screen all children ages 8 to 18 for anxiety, regardless of whether or not they are showing symptoms.

This is the first time the panel of medical experts has given this guidance.

It also reaffirmed that children ages 12 to 18 should be screened for depression, guidance it has given in previous years.

From 2016 to 2019, some 5.7 and 2.8 million children were diagnosed with anxiety and depression, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This move by USPSTF is meant to catch and treat these disorders early on.

“For older children and teens, screening and follow-up care can reduce symptoms of depression and can improve, and potentially resolve, anxiety,”

“However, there is very limited evidence on the benefits and harms of screening children younger than 8 for anxiety and younger than 12 for depression.”

Screening all kids could ‘help minimize the stigma’

Oftentimes, anxiety and depression are caught in school after already affecting a child’s performance, says Irina Gorelik, a child psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group.

A primary care doctor might be more equipped at “catching signs and symptoms that may be harder to observe earlier on,” she says.

Some signs a child might have anxiety, Gorelik says, include looking for constant reassurance about their safety. For example, they might ask a parent repeatedly, “Am I going to be okay?” before going to a sleepover.

Anxiety might present itself as an illogical illness, like constantly having nausea or stomach aches.

For many kids big life transitions like moving schools or a divorce can trigger anxiety, too.

The new recommendation could help decrease any shame kids might feel about being diagnosed with anxiety.

“Screening all kids can help to minimize stigma around mental health issues and help jumpstart conversations around support,” Gorelik says.

Benefits ‘largely depend on the implementation of services’

The steps taken after screening positive for anxiety or depression are paramount to the recommendation being helpful.

About half of kids with mental health disorders don’t receive treatment from professionals, according to a 2019 study published in Jama Pediatrics.

“The specific benefits to children who are identified as possibly struggling using the screenings may largely depend on the implementation of services to support those children and families,” Gorelik says.

If a child screens positive, they will still need further evaluation to determine if they have anxiety or depression, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force statement says.

Then treatment should be determined.

“After diagnosis, youth should participate in shared decision making with their parents or guardians and 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 statement reads.

Medical experts hope the recommendation is a positive step forward in addressing youth mental health.

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