The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said Tuesday that pediatricians should screen children younger than 8 for anxiety and children 12 or older for depression during routine well examinations.
The recommendation by the independent expert panel applies to children who do not show any signs or symptoms of a mental health problem. Task force member Laurie Papert said children – regardless of their age – should be referred for specialist care.
“We can’t help but screen children and adolescents,” said Pbert, a clinical psychologist and behavioral scientist. “We have to get to know them early. We don’t want them to struggle.”
The new guidelines from the Health Commission represent a definitive set of recommendations for screening children’s mental health. It is in line with the group’s draft recommendations released in April.
These tests are not intended to diagnose a child with anxiety or depression; It is meant to identify those who may need additional support in mental health care.
Pediatricians are not required to follow guidelines, but they often do based on the recommendations of the influential group.
But the problem is that there is a dearth of mental health workers trained to help these children.
“The pediatrician may be able to report someone, but they may not always have a place to send that person who needs help,” said Gina Glover, a child and adolescent psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Colorado. She is not a member of the staff.
However, she hailed the recommendations as a “positive step forward”.
“This is a way we can move forward in the ongoing mental health crisis to identify these children and connect them to services,” Glover said. “We know that early intervention is really the key to better outcomes.”
Young children may not always understand their feelings. So the doctors Several standardized questionnaires they can use to screen children for anxiety and depression, such as the Child Anxiety Disorders Screen and the so-called PHQ-9 Questionnaire.
They aim to separate children who are going through difficult days from those who have persistent and excessive mental health issues that disrupt their daily activities, such as going to school or attending birthday parties and other social events.
Anxiety and depression have been increasing in young people for years. A study released in February found that 1 in 5 teens had experienced a major depressive episode, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. A second report found that emergency room visits related to children’s mental health rose significantly in 2020, compared to 2019.
“By making these recommendations, we hope that you can really help spread awareness of the need for greater access to evidence-based mental health care for children and adolescents,” Papert said.
The task force did not find sufficient scientific evidence to support screening for suicidal thoughts in children of any age, and called for more research in this area. This issue is particularly important, as suicide rates are again on the rise.
A report from the National Center for Health Statistics in September found that young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest risk of suicide than any other group. And while the overall numbers were small, the percentage of girls aged 10-14 who committed suicide increased by 16% from 2020 to 2021.
Experts say that some level of anxiety or sadness is common and even normal in children. Having to solve a math problem in front of the class, for example, can lead to a fleeting feeling of anxiety.
But Pbert said real mental health problems in children can lead to excessive behavioral changes.
Signs of anxiety or depression in children include:
- Refusal to attend school or social events.
- Persistent feelings of hopelessness.
- Increased anxiety in cases of headache and stomach pain.
Sometimes, she added, “children and teens keep their fears to themselves, so symptoms can be missed.” “That’s why it’s so important that we screen children in primary care.”
“We’re not catching up with these kids early,” Glover said. “It’s getting sharper and reaching a crisis point.” “They engage in aggressive behavior or severe eating disorder behavior, and they show up in the emergency department.”
“If we had caught them earlier, we would have been able to treat them on an outpatient basis,” she said.
If you or someone you know is going through a crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also connect to the network, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255or text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources For additional resources.
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