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New Recommendation Suggests Screening All Women for Anxiety

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Early intervention can improve outcomes for women with anxiety.

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Key Takeaways

  • New clinical guidelines suggest anxiety screening in all teenage and adult women.
  • This doesn't suggest all women have anxiety, but they may have a higher degree of stress related to work, school, social settings, and home.
  • Other research notes there's been a big spike in anxiety since the start of the pandemic, so everyone may want to consider getting their mental health checked, even kids.

The Women's Preventive Services Initiative (WPSI) recently released new clinical guidelines suggesting all adolescent and adult women should be screened for anxiety as a way to improve early detection to provide earlier diagnosis and treatment if necessary and boost overall health as a result.

WPSI is a national coalition of women's health professional organizations and patient representatives, and provides recommendations intended to guide best practices for physicians and other healthcare providers, namely in the primary care setting. The group developed these new suggestions after evaluating available screening tools and gauging the harm of undiagnosed anxiety in teens and adult women.

The 27 screening tools they evaluated ranged from good to moderate to poor for accurately identifying anxiety, and the 33 studies that were reviewed found that symptoms improved and relapse rates were lowered with better screening and treatment methods.

This doesn't suggest all women have anxiety, but rather, that early intervention and detection of anxiety or other mental health conditions means that a person will be treated sooner.

Additionally, many women may be facing more potential stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2020 study found men are increasing the amount of time spent doing housework and homeschooling, but that women still do the largest share of those tasks, potentially along with professional responsibilities and elder care as well.

What This Means For You

You or a loved one may not be concerned about anxiety, but your doctor may follow these guidelines and screen you nonetheless. Preventive mental health care is just as important as any other preventive care, and these accurate screening methods can give you a head start on treatment for a condition that may have otherwise been overlooked.

Reducing the Stigma

Although the WPSI recommendation highlighted the importance of anxiety screening for women, this type of mental health check-in can be a benefit for everybody, says Cheryl Carmin, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Because of COVID-19 related pressures—homeschooling, potential job loss, and deep uncertainty about what's ahead—anxiety levels have been spiking as a result.

Research reports indicate that prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications rose 34% from mid-February to mid-March. During the week ending March 15—when stay-at-home orders began taking effect—about 78% of all antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-insomnia medications were new prescriptions.

Rising anxiety isn't just for adults—children are susceptible as well. Another 2020 study tracked the effects of the stay-at-home orders on students in grades 2 through 6 in China. Among the 2,330 children who were surveyed, researchers found a 19% increase in levels of anxiety and a 23% increase in symptoms of depression. This means that parents everywhere may want to ask their pediatricians about mental health screening for their kids as well.

As is the case with any health condition, early detection can help prevent issues from becoming chronic. But for mental health concerns, that means getting through the stigma first.

Cheryl Carmin, PhD

Everyone, at every level, has been thrown out of what was once certain and predictable, and put into a situation with uncertainty and ambiguity. The brain doesn't operate well with unpredictability, especially long-term. That's led many people who haven't dealt with anxiety before to have that become an issue for them. Screening for that can help address this, and give them strategies and tools for coping.

— Cheryl Carmin, PhD

Getting Help From Home

If there's a bright side to the pandemic, it's been the rise of telehealth, says Jennifer Gentile, PsyD, an attending psychologist in the Division of Endocrinology at Boston Children's Hospital, who treats some patients virtually using a telehealth app.

Because of widespread stay-at-home orders, more insurance companies have been open to covering the costs of telehealth services, and many healthcare providers that didn't have that service in place quickly moved to offering appointments remotely. That has included mental health services, even for new patients.

As employers recognize the need to have these resources available, there's also been a mini-boom in comprehensive apps focused on mental health, such as Lyra Health and Talkspace, which connect you with licensed professionals and are increasingly offered by employers. There are also self-help apps designed for individuals as well, like Anxiety Reliever, AnxietyCoach, and Happify.

Being able to stay in a comfortable, familiar environment like home while addressing anxiety concerns may lead more people to give screening and therapy a try, Gentile says.

A Word From Verywell

If you find yourself struggling with emotional and mental health challenges and experiencing signs of anxiety and/or depression—which can also manifest as physical symptoms like fatigue, chronic pain, headaches, and stomach pain—talk with your primary care physician or other healthcare provider for appropriate referrals.

You may be able to do telehealth sessions with a therapist or counselor, even as a new patient.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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