DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The U.S Preventive Services Task Force now recommends routine anxiety screenings for children starting at 8 years old.

“There is a huge need for us to be able to understand what’s happening with our youth,” said Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a clinical psychologist with Duke Health.

Gurwitch said early intervention is important because anxiety disorders in children can continue to adulthood.

“Being able to screen earlier for one of the most common challenges that children face, allows us to get in and do something about it,” Gurwitch said.

The recommendation comes just four months after U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory highlighting the urgent need to address the youth mental health crisis.

“We had rates of suicide increase among our children. and for many kids during the pandemic, feelings of anxiety and depression worsened and loneliness as well,” Murthy said.

Murthy said many children had the structure in their lives disrupted by not being able to go to school and see friends, and those who are disadvantaged in our communities face food insecurity.

Then, there’s social media.

“It’s increased their sense of isolation and amplified a culture of comparison,” said Murthy. “We want our children to know it’s OK to admit you’re struggling, it’s OK to ask for help.'”

According to the CDC, anxiety may present as fear or worry but can also make children irritable and angry.
Parents should look out for changes in sleeping or eating behaviors, academics, and mood.

“If your young children are not wanting to go to school because of headaches, stomach aches and other things, that may be a red flag that they’re worried above and beyond,” said Gurwitch. “Oftentimes, children can’t put that into words and so we need to look a little bit deeper.”

When it comes to anxiety in children, Gurwitch said the best advice is to ask.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking that’s the most important thing, if you have concerns, ask your pediatrician, ask your family physician, they can get you started on the right path,” she said.

The task force’s recommendation for anxiety screening in kids is not final.

It’s open for public comment until May 9.

Additional resources:
National Child Traumatic Stress Network

American Psychological Association

CDC: Anxiety and Depression