Controversial recommendations say all adults between 19 and 64 years of age should be screened for anxiety disorders.
The proposal, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), is the first time the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is recommending such screenings in adults. Some believe it could lead to an invasion of privacy for most people and increased usage of dangerous anxiety drugs. Americans are already one of the most mediated societies in the world.
While helping millions who suffer undiagnosed depression and other mental illnesses, the plan may influence insurance plans and guide doctors’ decisions about health decisions. Insurance coverage plays a significant role in determining access to health care services, including screenings and subsequent treatment. The inclusion of anxiety disorder screenings in health coverage could assist with diagnosing mental health issues but also be a boon for pharmaceutical companies that currently make billions in profit off of anti-depressant drugs.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a notable rise in symptoms associated with anxiety and depressive disorders among adults from August 2020 to February 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. The most significant increases were observed among individuals aged 18 to 29 years. A more recent analysis of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that in 2023, half of adults ages 18 to 24 reported anxiety and depression symptoms, compared to about one-third of adults overall. In general, an estimated 31.1 percent of American adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
Anxiety disorders manifest through persistent and excessive worry regarding activities or events and a tendency to avoid certain situations. Physical symptoms may include sweating, trembling, and rapid heartbeat. This chronic apprehension can lead to significant distress and impairment in daily functioning. Anxiety and depression have led to record anti-depressant drug use as well as illegal drug use.
Depression has been steadily increasing in the United States, according to a recent Gallup survey. Notably, cases of depression experienced a significant surge during COVID-19 lockdowns. The report highlights that nearly 29 percent of adults reported being diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives, representing an increase of nearly 10 percentage points compared to the figure in 2015.
While screening can detect those with serious issues, there is serious potential risks of false positives, which may result in the unnecessary administration of drugs. Additionally, labeling and stigma can be potential negative consequences.
However, the task force asserts that screening and receiving appropriate care for most individuals can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression.
In an editorial accompanying the new recommendation, Dr. Murray Stein and Dr. Linda Hill from the University of California emphasized the need for a clinical evaluation for suicidal intent following a positive screen result for anxiety. However, this aspect is not explicitly mentioned in the USPSTF Recommendation Statement.