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Health task force proposes screening all adults under 65 for anxiety, even if they have no symptoms

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Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

For the first time in its history, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force has proposed that all adults under the age of 65 be screened for anxiety, even if they have no anxiety symptoms.

According to a Draft Recommendation Statement which USPSTF released on Tuesday, conducting anxiety screenings on all adults between 18 and 64 — including women who are pregnant or postpartum — takes "the first step" in connecting potentially vulnerable people to health care professionals who can help diagnose and treat a possible mental health condition.

"To address the critical need for supporting the mental health of adults in primary care, the Task Force reviewed the evidence on screening for anxiety, depression, and suicide risk," said Task Force member Lori Pbert, Ph.D. "The good news is that 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."

USPSTF claimed that the benefits of universal adult anxiety screenings until age 65 outweigh any risks, which may include inaccurate screenings and recommending mental health interventions for people who are mentally well.

The AP reported that anxiety remains one of the most common health complaints, affecting 40% of women and 25% of men. Even though mental health became a regular topic of conversation during the government shutdowns of 2020, USPSTF stated that its findings regarding anxiety and mental health are based on a review that was conducted before the spread of COVID-19.

Though Pbert mentioned that USPSTF considered "screening for anxiety, depression, and suicide risk," the group said it needs to conduct more research about the possible risks of screening adults 65 and older for anxiety and of screening all adults for suicide risk before making a recommendation about these practices.

The task force does believe that certain groups within the 18-64 age range are more likely to suffer from anxiety and other mental health disorders than others.

"Racism and structural policies have contributed to wealth inequities in the United States, which also affects mental health in underserved communities," the Draft Recommendation Statement reads in part.

USPSTF also expressed concern that "misdiagnosis of mental health conditions occurs more in black and Hispanic/Latino patients compared with White patients" and that black people do not receive mental health services at the same rate as their white and Asian counterparts.

In its statement, the USPSTF made the disclaimer that it is entirely "independent of the U.S. government" and that its recommendations should not be "construed as an official position" of any government agency.

USPSTF is accepting comments from the public about this proposal until October 17. However, the AP states that the task force usually formalizes its draft proposals.

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