All Adults Under 65 Need Anxiety Screening, Task Force Says

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June 21, 2023 – An influential task force has recommended that all adults under the age of 65 be screened for anxiety. The recommendation comes a year after the same group called for regular anxiety screening for children ages 8 and older.

In their recommendation published Tuesday, members of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force wrote that “routine screening could substantially increase the likelihood that patients receive treatment in a timely manner, potentially saving years of distress and reducing economic burden.” 

The task force was founded in 1984 and consists of a group of volunteers who work in the fields of preventive medicine and primary care, including internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, behavioral health, obstetrics and gynecology, and nursing. The panel’s recommendations are not enforceable but are known to influence coverage decisions made by insurance companies.

The task force’s recommendation summary said that at least 1 in 10 adults had mild anxiety in the past 2 weeks, according to a 2019 survey, and more than 1 in 20 had moderate or severe anxiety in the previous 2 weeks.

Anxiety itself is a normal emotion, according to the American Psychiatric Association, which defines it as “anticipation of a future concern” and is marked by muscle tension and avoidance behavior. 

“Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness and involve excessive fear or anxiety,” according to the APA. “Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives.”

There are numerous types of anxiety disorders. The APA estimates that among U.S. adults, 12% have a phobia (fear of an object or situation) disorder, 7% have social anxiety disorder, up to 3% have panic disorder, and up to 3% have agoraphobia, which is a fear of crowded places, of leaving home, or of being somewhere that is difficult to escape.

Anxiety screenings generally involve answering standardized questions, such as how often in the past 2 weeks a person has been bothered by:

  • Not being able to stop or control worrying
  • Being so restless that it is hard to sit still
  • Feeling afraid, as if something awful might happen

Treatment for anxiety disorders typically includes counseling and medication, which helps most people lead normal lives, the APA says.