What To Know About The New Mental Health Screening Recommendations For Children

In a statement published October 11 in the scientific journal JAMA, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released their updated recommendations from 2014 and 2016 regarding mental health screenings in young children. The new guidelines suggest that primary care physicians implement screening measures for anxiety in children starting at age 8, as well as depression screenings for kids ages 12 and up, reports NBC News.

"The earlier you identify symptoms, the earlier you intervene, and that reduces the amount of time a child is suffering," said Dr. Cori Green, director of Behavioral Health Education and Integration in pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine, as reported via The New York Times. Dr. Green was not involved in the new recommendations.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that anxiety in children may manifest in the form of worry, fear, irritability, anger, sleeping difficulties, fatigue, headaches, and more. Children experiencing depression may exhibit changes in eating behaviors, decreases in energy, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, and difficulty holding attention, amongst other signs. 

As written in the statement, the USPSTF noted that major depressive disorder in kids and teens has been linked with recurrent depression later in life, additional mental health conditions, and an increased risk for both suicide attempts and completion. As per the new recommendations, the guidelines apply to children and adolescents not previously diagnosed with a mental health disorder or to those who do not display recognized indicators of depression or suicide risk. 

Screening methods will likely vary amongst healthcare settings

As an independent group of medical experts, the USPSTF cannot enforce these recommendations, reports NBC News. However, many healthcare professionals elect to follow their guidance. As reported via The New York Times, members of the USPSTF acknowledge the obstacles in issuing these screening measures during what are often short, annual primary care visits. "There are a variety of screening options, and I think it depends on the population, it depends on the setting, and I think it depends on the amount of time clinicians have," child psychologist Joseph McGuire, who is unaffiliated with the task force, told the publication. No formal recommendation was issued regarding any one specific screening tool.

"We're not catching these kids early. It is getting more severe and it's getting to the point of crisis," child and adolescent psychologist Jenna Glover, who is not a task force member, told NBC News. While more research is still needed, health experts state that implementing these screening tools is one way to help catch symptoms of mental health disorders early in children that might otherwise go undetected.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.