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Montefiore in the News

April 25, 2022

Regular screening for anxiety in their doctor's office is one way to help kids before their troubles escalate.

An influential panel of experts says all kids ages eight to 18 should be screened regularly for anxiety. This draft recommendation by the United States Preventive Task Force comes at a time when mental health problems among kids have escalated and are overwhelming the health system.

The task force also recommends that kids 12 and older continue to be screened for depression, a recommendation that's been in place since 2016.

The screenings are usually done by primary care physicians using standardized questionnaires that parents and/or kids answer, depending on their age.

"We were already seeing rising rates of anxiety, depression and also suicide behaviors and suicide in our young people," says Martha Kubik, a professor of nursing at George Mason University and a member of the task force.

The goal of the screenings, she says, is to help doctors and other providers identify at-risk kids early on in the trajectory of their illness so that they can be treated before symptoms escalate.

Child and adolescent mental health experts welcome the recommendations.

It has increasingly become clear that most mental illnesses manifest in childhood and adolescence, says Dr. Jennifer Havens, the chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU's Grossman School of Medicine.

But anxiety disorder, one of the most common mental illnesses among children, can go undetected for a long time.

"It can be quiet. Kids who are anxious are often very self-conscious and aren't going to share this with their families or their physicians, necessarily. So screening is a very, very good idea."

Most cases of anxiety in children can be treated with psychotherapy, she adds. Only kids with severe anxiety need medication. That's why, she says, the earlier a child is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

Kids with anxiety disorders are at higher risk of anxiety disorders and depression in adulthood, along with related risks like substance abuse, the recommendation notes.

Pediatricians have long recognized the need for screening, says Dr. Sandy Chung, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, because they've seen an increasing number of their patients struggle with a range of mental health symptoms for years. Those grew to alarming numbers during the pandemic. "We are truly in a crisis situation with mental health," she adds.