Panel recommends anxiety screenings for most adults, linking mental health care with primary care

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A physician guidelines group is recommending that adults under 65 should be screened for anxiety.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released the draft recommendation Tuesday, targeted toward individuals who have not been previously diagnosed with mental health disorders.

The recommendation finds physicians that conduct anxiety screenings for adults under 65 can help identify and treat anxiety disorders early.

"This is an opportunity for health care professionals to do a brief screen of their patients, and then see if there's follow-up that's needed," said Dr. Lori Pbert with the Preventive Services Task Force, or USPSTF.

Dr. Pbert told CBS 58 anxiety disorders can sometimes be missed in primary care due to their variety of symptoms.

"They may be presenting with physical concerns, fatigue, pain," Dr. Pbert said.

A questionnaire screening can help identify anxiety disorder before it becomes too severe.

The recommendation intertwines mental health with primary, physical health checkups.

"Mental health care is health care. We cannot just ignore the mind and our emotional and our mental well-being, and just focus on the body and the physical symptoms," said Meredith Goldberg, a licensed clinical social worker with Whole Path Psychotherapy in St. Francis.

Although the USPSTF'S recommendation review began before the pandemic, the draft release is timely.

"Stress, isolation, and changes in routine are all associated with increased symptoms of depression and anxiety," Dr. Pbert said, noting those were hallmarks with the pandemic.

While nerves can be normal, persistent anxiety often needs treatment.

"If your emotions and your physical sensations and reactions are getting in the way, preventing you from doing things you want to do, that's when things start to become an actual disorder," Goldberg said.

Goldberg believes an upside of the pandemic is how it has helped highlight and destigmatize mental health care.

"There's no shame in struggling with anxiety," Goldberg said. "It's way more common than anybody thinks."

Dr. Pbert told CBS 58 there isn't enough evidence to make a similar recommendation for adults 65 and older, as different screening tools are needed for that age group.

The current recommendation is in a public comment period, which is open until Oct. 17.

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