By Wesley Gallagher
Many areas of our health are screened at regular checkups with our doctors. However, despite rising anxiety rates in adults in recent years, mental health has not been one of them. Fortunately, the US Preventive Services Task Force is in the process of publishing a recommendation for anxiety screening for all adults under 65.
The task force, which is appointed and funded by an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, is an independent panel of experts in primary care that develops guidelines for preventive services for doctors. Its recommendations are considered the gold standard for clinical preventive services in the US, so this policy should make its way into a doctor’s office near you as soon as it is made official.
An Important Mental Health Test for Adults
Along with the advised anxiety screening comes an updated directive for depression screening, making for more complete mental health testing as the medical community increasingly recognizes the need for greater access to mental healthcare. It is recommended that all adults, not just those with symptoms or a diagnosed disorder, be screened.
The hope is that these depression and anxiety tests will prevent mental illness from going undetected and untreated so that you can get the help you need early on. According to SAMHSA’s 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, less than half of adults with any mental illness received mental health services within the previous year, and only about two-thirds of those with serious mental illness received help.
The screeners are just the first step in changing these statistics, however, and the next steps aren’t quite as easy to take. It’s relatively simple for primary care doctors to have us fill out a questionnaire that helps determine whether we have symptoms of depression or anxiety. Performing additional assessments after a positive screening and getting us to the proper mental healthcare provider is another story, especially at a time when we are short on mental health resources throughout the country.
Ideally, those of us who, after further assessment, are determined to have an anxiety disorder would be sent to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist for proper treatment. However, with a shortage of providers and the questionable affordability of mental healthcare, the likelihood of this happening is unpredictable. Another concern is that doctors will assume that a positive screener indicates a clinical disorder instead of performing further assessments, which could lead to unnecessary treatment or medication.
Regardless of the potential pitfalls of this new guideline, it’s a step in the right direction as doctors and patients are encouraged to pay more attention to mental health.
Just How Burned-Out Are We?
The draft recommendation for these mental health tests for adults states that the lifetime prevalence of anxiety in the US is 26% for men and 40% for women, making it a common health concern. And COVID-19 did nothing to help adult mental health. The World Health Organization reported earlier this year that global depression and anxiety rates rose by 25% in the first year of the pandemic.
Women, in particular, have been especially affected by COVID-19 and everything it has brought with it. According to USA TODAY, one of the largest studies on women’s well-being found that levels of stress, anxiety, worry, sadness, and anger are at a ten-year high for women. Mental health experts attribute this to the disproportionate emotional burden women have borne for their families during the financial, emotional, and physical uncertainty of the pandemic. And while both men and women left their jobs in large numbers when the pandemic started, women have been much slower to return to the workforce.
And of course, healthcare and other frontline workers have experienced burnout, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues at higher rates than the general population since COVID-19 started filling hospitals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a survey from June through September 2020 showed that 93% of health workers felt stressed and stretched too thin, 22% experienced moderate depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a staggering 69% of physicians reported experiencing depression. While many of us have returned to a relatively normal “new normal,” healthcare workers are still on the frontlines of this ever-evolving pandemic.
Help for Anxiety
With issues like depression and anxiety on the rise, these mental health tests for adults are a much-needed addition to regular medical care. If you think you may have symptoms of anxiety or depression, ask your doctor about a screening. Many know that Bournewood Health Systems offers a highly structured hospital setting where we address both mental health issues and chemical dependency conditions for adults and adolescents. But we also offer a partial hospitalization program for intensive outpatient treatment or transitional care after hospitalization. Call us today to find out how we can help you on your road to healing.