A panel of influential experts recommends that children as young as 8 years old be routinely screened for anxiety. The recommendation adds to their previous advice that children aged 12 or older should be screened for depression. However, they refrained from advising that children under 11 should be screened for depression or that children in general be screened. screened for suicide risk, citing a lack of sufficient evidence.
Recommendations come from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, or USPSTF. Although the USPSTF is under the aegis of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the members of the task force are voluntary external experts brought in to provide recommendations on a variety of topics related to the prevention of health problems. . Their guidelines carry significant weight with healthcare professionals and even influence insurance coverage for preventive treatments.
One of the areas covered by the USPSTF is the type of mental health services that should be offered to young children and adolescents during health care visits. In 2016, they recommended that children over 12 be routinely screened for clinical depression. Their latest draft guidelines, published Tuesday, hold this advice, but for the first time they call children from the age of 8 also be screened for anxiety. Both guidelines are for children who do not exhibit or visibly report symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“To address the critical need to support the mental health of children and adolescents in primary care, the task force reviewed the evidence on screening for anxiety, depression and suicide risk,” said Martha Kubik, task force member, registered nurse and researcher. at George Mason University, in a statement from the USPSTF. “Fortunately, we have found that screening older children for anxiety and depression is effective in identifying these conditions so children and teens can be connected to the support they need.”
Evidence, for now at least, is less certain for other areas of screening, says task force. As before, they judged that there was insufficient evidence to know whether screening for suicide risk in children in general was beneficial or for generalized screening for depression in children under 11 years of age. They call for more research on these particular topics. And in the meantime, they advise medical professionals to use their own judgment in deciding when patients might need this type of screening on a case…by-case basis.
Recommendations may be more relevant than ever. Late last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data showing that more than 40% of high school students felt hopeless or constantly sad in the first half of 2021 – figures that have increased since before the pandemic.
These guidelines are still in their preliminary version, so they may vary before their final publication. From now until early May, members of the public and other scientists will be allowed to comment on the decision.