Nurses can play a vital role in implementing this recommendation during primary care visits.


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For the first time, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended that primary care physicians screen all children ages eight to 18 for anxiety. The panel also reaffirmed its position that all adolescents ages 12 to 18 should be screened for depression.


The recommendations come as the United States faces an ongoing mental health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just under 6 million children have been diagnosed with anxiety, while close to 3 million have been diagnosed with depression. These estimates predate the COVID-19 pandemic.


"Too many children and teens in the United States experience mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. There is a critical need to address the mental health of children and adolescents in primary care settings so that they can get the support they need to thrive," said Martha Kubic, a member of the task force, in an email to AJN.


The task force defined anxiety as a group of related conditions characterized by excessive fear or worry that manifest as emotional and physical symptoms. Screening questionnaires were recommended to identify at-risk children. If the screening test is positive for anxiety, the group recommends a confirmatory diagnostic assessment and follow-up.


While the task force has no regulatory authority, its recommendations influence standards of care. The hope is that children who haven't been routinely screened for anxiety and depression will now be screened during their annual well visits.


"Nurses play a vital role in implementing this recommendation during primary care visits," said Kubik. "As an integral part of the health care delivery team, nurses can help ensure all children and teens are proactively screened for anxiety starting at eight years old. This is an important, effective way to help safeguard the mental health of our youngest generation."-Amy M. Collins, managing editor


U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA 2022;328(14):1438-44; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anxiety and depression in children: get the facts. Atlanta, GA; 2022 Apr 22.