Kids as young as 8 should be screened for anxiety, health panel says

Health experts are recommending children and adolescents be screened for anxiety and depression as a step to address the US youth mental health challenges.

For the first time, US Preventive Services Task Force recommended last week that children ages eight and older be screened for anxiety. It also suggested those 12 and older be screened for depression.

A month ago, the group recommended all adults under 65 be evaluated for the same conditions. The task force urges preventative screening for children and adolescents who don’t have a mental health diagnosis and don’t show symptoms.

Suicide was the second highest cause of death for Americans ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34 in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The US has taken some steps to address the mental health crisis, including rolling out a national hotline in July, connecting anyone who dials 988 to the suicide prevention lifeline.

It’s not just an American issue: Rates of anxiety and depression rose by about 25 percent worldwide in the first year of the pandemic, according to a report by the World Health Organization. Young people were at the greatest increased risk of suicide and self-harm, the WHO said.

The task force cites a survey of primary care physicians which found that while 76 percent believe it’s important to talk to adolescent patients about their mental health, only 46 percent said they always do. The group says it’s crucial to start screening early.

“Children and adolescents with depression typically have functional impairments in their performance at school or work, as well as in their interactions with their families and peers,” it said in a statement. “Depression can also negatively affect the developmental trajectories of affected youth.”

About 5.8 million children were diagnosed with anxiety and about 2.7 million were diagnosed with depression between 2016 and 2019, according to the CDC, which says the first step to treatment is to talk with a health-care provider. Bloomberg

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