- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A panel of primary care experts says children as young as 8 should be regularly screened for anxiety regardless of whether they show any signs.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also said children 12 years old and older should be screened for depression.

“We want to catch symptoms of anxiety early,” Dr. Sue Varma, a board-certified psychiatrist, told NBC’s “Today.” “The idea is that if they can catch it now, this can prevent adulthood anxiety, depression, substance abuse, chronic medical illnesses like diabetes and obesity.”

Pediatricians aren’t required to follow the task force‘s advice, and the screenings are not meant to diagnose children directly, though they could flag those who need extra support.

The recommendations parallel the general worry about rising rates of anxiety and depression in young children and teens.

President Biden has spoken openly about a “mental health crisis” in America and launched a 988 telephone crisis hotline for people who need to connect with a behavioral health professional.

Children were nudged out of school and into home isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating worries.

A federal report found the share of emergency department visits tied to mental health increased by 24% for children aged 5-11 and by 31% among adolescents aged 12-17 from March to October 2020 — when the pandemic hit hard —  compared to the same period in 2019.

However, other studies have found that 1 in 5 teenagers was reporting a major depressive episode before COVID-19 arrived.

Children can have difficulty expressing their emotions, and it is hard to separate anxiety from a rough patch in life. So doctors rely on questionnaires known as the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Disorders and the PHQ-9 questionnaire to draw better conclusions about anxiety or depression.

The task force ruled out screening children for suicidal thoughts in its recommendations issued Tuesday, saying more research is needed.

The panel is appointed and funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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