The persistent pandemic, rising crime, an uncertain economy — all good reasons to visit your doctor for an anxiety test, or so the federal government says. The advice isn’t just aimed at people already experiencing mental health problems: This week, the US Preventive Services Task Force, an advisory group made up of the Department of Health and Human Services, issued a recommendation that everybody Americans under the age of 65 are screened for anxiety. (That’s probably a normal and good thing for a government to recommend, right?)
Part of the task force’s purpose is to uncover hidden or unreported mental health disorders so they don’t go untreated, and one of its main findings is that, unsurprisingly, the turmoil of recent years has many people feeling anxious. . As noted, the board cites inflation. crime rates, fear of disease, and loss of loved ones to COVID-19 are possible reasons you might be anxious, but feel free to add global warming, the advance of fascism, and the continued existence of spiders to the list if you want. Whatever the cause, the percentage of adults reporting recent symptoms of an anxiety disorder or depression increased from 36.4% to 41.5% between August 2020 and February 2021, according to research cited by the group.
Here’s what you need to know about getting screened for anxiety.
How does an anxiety disorder screening test work?
It’s not required, but doctors across the country are expected to start prioritizing anxiety screenings in response to the panel’s advice, so if you make an appointment for a checkup, your doctor will probably be ready to do the screening. initial test. This will usually take the form of a questionnaire that your doctor will use to look for signs that you may have an anxiety disorder. From there, you may be referred to a mental health specialist to complete the diagnosis or be told that you have no symptoms of the disorder.
If it is eventually discovered that you have an anxiety disorder, things get a bit murky. Standard treatment is therapy and/or medication, which have been shown to be effective for most people after a few months, but if you will have access the level of treatment you need is anything but guaranteed. Like Dr. Jeffrey Staab, a psychiatrist and chairman of the department of psychiatry and psychology at Mayo Clinic (not a member of the task force), points to the New York Times, The United States has a shortage of mental health professionals at all levels, and a screening program won’t do much good if it doesn’t lead to treatment for those who need it.
That’s not the only potential pitfall. “When providers say, ‘You must have a disorder, here, take this,’ we could be facing an overprescribing problem,” says Staab. “But the opposite scenario is that we have a lot of people suffering who shouldn’t be. Both outcomes are possible.”
Why an anxiety screening can help fight systemic racism
According to task force member Lori Pbert, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, another potential benefit of mass-screenings for anxiety disorders is combating racism, implicit bias, and other systemic health care equality issues. Screening everyone—rather than simply those who look like they might fit the typical image of an anxiety patient—could ultimately lead to more equitable distribution of mental health resources. To a degree, anyway: Distribution of treatment and resources is still likely to favor those likely to actually have a primary care physician they visit on the regular.
What about people over 65?
The task force did not recommend anxiety screenings for people over the age of 65 because, “anxiety symptoms are similar to normal signs of aging, such as fatigue and generalized pain.” This suggests to me that we should develop better testing for anxiety so we can ensure older people aren’t needlessly suffering from it, but I’m no medical researcher.