Why a Major Health Organization Wants All Girls and Women Over Age 13 to Be Screened for Anxiety

If you're one of the 40 million American adults who has an anxiety disorder, you know how paralyzing and disruptive it can be. The mental health condition can cause panic attacks, excessive worry, extreme difficulty socializing and working with others, and other side effects that make daily life stressful and difficult. Many forms of anxiety also disproportionately affect women—women are twice as likely as men to have generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Yet only 37 percent of people with an anxiety disorder receive treatment on how to manage it effectively at all, says the ADAA.

In an effort to treat anxiety earlier and better, the Women's Preventive Services Initiative, a coalition of U.S. women's health professional and patient organizations, announced today that they recommend every single girl and woman over the age of 13 get an anxiety screening—regardless of whether they've been officially diagnosed with anxiety in the past or not.

The announcement came in the form of a research-backed report highlighting just how effective an anxiety screening can be. Researchers looked at the results of 171 studies, which focused on different anxiety screening methods in adolescent girls and adult women. They found that anxiety symptoms decreased after therapy and, in some cases, medication.

"Lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders in women is approximately 40 percent; twice that in men," the report reads. "Anxiety disorders are associated with biological, sex-specific mechanisms and can be a common manifestation of underlying issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual harassment and assault, and other experiences common among women. In adolescent girls, worries about school performance, concerns about appearance, earlier sexualization, changing media and consumer culture, and poor self-esteem are important triggers." (A person's experience with anxiety can also be deeply shaped by their race and the prejudices they face.) The researchers added that anxiety disorders can begin in girls as young as 11.

This new recommendation is critical because while depression screenings are currently standard for adolescents and adults as part of their normal preventative care, anxiety screenings are not. "The purpose of this recommendation [that all girls and women over 13 should be screened for anxiety] is to increase detection of anxiety disorders in adolescent and adult women through screening to achieve earlier diagnosis of specific types of anxiety and co-occurring conditions, initiate appropriate treatment, and improve health, function, and well-being," the report reads.

If you've never had an anxiety screening before, it's a brief questionnaire focusing on specific physical and mental feelings, which help identify if you regularly experience specific symptoms common with anxiety disorders. These screenings don't automatically provide a diagnosis; their role is to help doctors identify who potentially needs to be examined further for potential diagnosis. You can ask your therapist or doctor for a screening, or try a free screening tools available online from a reputable organization like the ADAA or Mental Health America. Post-screening, it's crucial to work with a trained mental health professional you trust in order to address any potential anxiety issues—they can help you get a diagnosis if you need one as well as work on a treatment and management plan that's right for your unique situation and needs.

For too long, many people—especially women—have lived with their anxiety without getting the help they need. Hopefully these screening recommendations will start to change that.

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