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Adults should be screened for anxiety disorders, health panel recommends

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

For the first time, an influential task force now recommends all people under age 65 be screened for anxiety problems at regular checkups. As NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports, the goal is to help more people receive treatment more quickly.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Anxiety and depression have been rising in this country since the early 1900s. Dr. Jeffrey Staab is a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic. He says the opioid epidemic and then the COVID pandemic greatly exacerbated these problems.

JEFFREY STAAB: So it's sort of a triple whammy that's increased the rates of anxiety disorders and depressive disorders in others.

DOUCLEFF: Last year a panel of clinicians called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said that all children over age 7 should be screened for anxiety disorders by their pediatricians or family doctors at annual exams even if they don't have symptoms. Now the task force has extended that guidance to adults under age 65. The panel found that anxiety problems are often missed at primary care clinics. And only about 10% of people started treatment within a year of their symptoms. Staab welcomes the recommendations, but he says there's concerns they could worsen disparities in who can access help for anxiety because many people in low-income communities don't have access to primary care clinics.

STAAB: Because the guidelines are for primary care clinicians to do the screening. So if you don't even have a foot in the door at all for medical care, then these aren't going to help much.

DOUCLEFF: And what about for older people? Staub says the panel didn't recommend screening for people over age 64 because there just haven't been big enough high-quality studies with that group.

STAAB: There's nothing magic about age 65. It's just how the data are collected and the fact that the task force didn't feel there was enough good research data to extend the recommendation into older adults.

DOUCLEFF: The task force also reviewed its advice for depression and continues to recommend screening for all adults no matter their age. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD, is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. For nearly a decade, she has been reporting for the radio and the web for NPR's global health outlet, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, cross-cultural parenting, and women and children's health.