Task force to recommend children as young as 8 to be regularly screened for anxiety

WAUWATOSA, Wis. (CBS 58) — The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is set to recommend that children eight and older be screened for anxiety.

The task force is made up of an independent panel of medical professionals and medical experts. They make recommendations on screenings, along with preventative medicine.

The draft recommendation, posted on the task force’s website, recommends screening for anxiety in children and adolescents ages 8 to 18 years. It received a ‘B’ grade. The website explains a ‘B’ indicates there is “high certainty that the net benefit is moderate or there is moderate certainty that the net benefit is moderate to substantial.”

“We’re actually really excited to see the draft that’s been put out by this task force,” explained Dr. Cheryl Brosig Soto, chief of pediatric psychology and developmental medicine at Children’s Wisconsin. “It speaks to the importance of mental health really being a part of health and really, I think, seeks to reduce the stigma of talking about mental health issues.”

“I’m happy that we’re starting to push more for screening of mental health illnesses, especially anxiety,” added Dr. Munther Barakat, director of behavioral health therapy at Advocate Aurora Health. “Anxiety is one of the most prevalent illnesses in children.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 in 3 adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. The draft recommendation filed by the task force references the 2018-2019 National Survey of Children’s Health, which found that 7.8 percent of children and adolescents ages 3 to 17 had a current anxiety disorder.

The experts say the pandemic has only caused that number to grow. Data from the CDC released in March of 2022 indicates that over 37 percent of high school kids say they have experienced poor mental health.

“The rates of mental health issues in kids was high before the pandemic and the data has just shown that that has grown exponentially since Covid,” Dr. Brosig Soto explained. “Obviously, the hope would be that as the world goes back to more normal, whatever that means, that the rate of mental health problems would go down. I’m just not sure that we’re going to see that.”

It’s important to address anxiety early so that it doesn’t lead to depression or other mental health disorders later in life. Both professionals acknowledge that parents and teachers play an important role in helping kids identify challenges they may face with anxiety.

“The best thing parents can do is just really listen and be open to the conversation,” Dr. Brosig Soto said. “Even if the child doesn’t acknowledge having a concern, just the fact that parents may say, ‘You know, there’s a lot of stuff that’s gone on in the world that’s been stressful. How are you doing with all that?’ They may not want to talk now, but in the future they will.”

“Kids can be really confused about emotions that they’re experiencing,” Dr. Barakat added. “The anxiety is occurring because they’re having a thought process or interpreting a certain situation that’s creating anxiety. Opening up that discussion with the child. We’re not going to eliminate it. We’re going to help teach them skills to manage it.”

The draft posted on the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force website is available for public comments until May, 9, 2022. You can learn more about the recommendation and leave a comment here