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U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening children 8 and older for anxiety, here is why

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force posted recommendations on screening for depression and suicide risk in children and adolescents and screening for anxiety in children and adolescents.

The Task Force recommends screening children 12 and older for depression and, for the first time, is recommending screening children ages 8 and older for anxiety. The group states that there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against screening for anxiety and depression in younger children and screening for suicide risk in all youth.

The group says that too many children and teens in the United States are experiencing mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

“To address the critical need for supporting the mental health of children and adolescents in primary care, the Task Force looked at the evidence on screening for anxiety, depression, and suicide risk,” says Task Force member Martha Kubik, Ph.D., R.N. “Fortunately, we 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.”

For older children and teens, screening and follow-up care can reduce symptoms of depression and can improve, and potentially resolve, anxiety, according to the Task Force. However, there is very limited evidence on the benefits and harms of screening children younger than 8 for anxiety and younger than 12 for depression. And while suicide is tragically a leading cause of death for older children and teens, there continues to be limited evidence about screening for suicide risk in those without signs or symptoms across all ages.

“The challenge is that, for children and adolescents without signs or symptoms, we do not have the evidence to tell us whether or not it’s beneficial to screen younger children for depression and anxiety and all youth for suicide risk. More research on these important conditions is critical,” says Task Force member Lori Pbert, Ph.D. “In the meantime, healthcare professionals should use their clinical judgment based on individual patient circumstances when deciding whether or not to screen.”

The Task Force recognizes that screening is only the first step in helping children and teens with depression and anxiety. Youth who screen positive need further evaluation to determine if they have depression or anxiety. After diagnosis, the group believes that youth should participate in shared decision making with their parents or guardians and their healthcare professionals to identify the treatment or combination of treatments that are right for them, and then be monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that the chosen treatment is effective. Anyone expressing concerns about or showing signs of these conditions should be connected to care.

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