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Panel: Most adults should get routine anxiety screenings

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A federal task force recommends that adults under 65 be screened for anxiety disorders.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force guidance comes at a critical time as many people are dealing with mental health concerns. The task force says the COVID-19 pandemic set off a wide range of mental issues.

The CDC reports that adults ages 18 to 44 were the least likely to seek mental health treatment in 2019, but that changed in 2021, with adults in that age range becoming more likely to seek treatment.

The panel defines an anxiety disorder as, “characterized by more significant duration or intensity of a stress response over everyday events.” It cautions that chronic stress can cause a wide range of physical and mental health issues.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, around 48 million adults in the U.S. are affected by an anxiety disorder. Researchers also found that more than one million adults in Indiana suffer from mental illness.

The panel recommends that adults should get mental health screenings as part of routine visits with their primary care physician.

I.U. Health clinical psychologist Dr. Anne Mary Montero says screening for anxiety disorders and depression can help people become more aware of their mental health and aid them in getting relief from their symptoms by seeking treatment.

“I think of this as a part of the human condition. Most of us worry, especially those who are high achievers or oriented to want to do well, whether that is for ourselves or for others. It’s a part of our normal human response, but when it becomes more intense or regular, that’s something where we want to have professional support, or at least be available,” Montero said.

Dr. Montero uses a seven-question screening measure called the GAD-7 to score anxiety.

“It takes most of my patients a few seconds to fill out, and it asks about major symptoms like feeling nervous, having a hard time getting worries off your mind, having a wide range of worries, or thinking about the worst-case scenario, what we call ‘catastrophizing’.”

Someone with a low GAD-7 score may be able to self-treat anxiety with relaxation techniques, while Montero says others may need to be referred for cognitive behavioral therapy or psychiatry.

“We want to know to what degree people feel that, so I administer that routinely. That is something that can easily be added to primary care physician’s offices,” Montero said.

Montero also says that widespread screening could raise public awareness about anxiety and anxiety disorders and help break down stigmas.