The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force is recommending anxiety screenings for kids as talked about here: Why a US task force is recommending anxiety screening in kids 8 and older (theconversation.com). I think this is a wonderful idea. I have one hesitation which I’ll get to, but this is mostly a huge step towards acknowledging that mental health is simply health. Kids are screened for things like lice and scoliosis in school. It’s just too bad that it took this long for an official recommendation to add some mental health issues to the list.
The article says that anxiety is one of the most common disorders in children. Also, it is treatable and failure to treat it in childhood leads to many more problems as the children grow up. That makes it sound like a no brainer. Plus, early detection and treatment saves money because treatment becomes harder the longer the condition lasts. Basically, teachers, children, and caregivers would work together and use evidence-based screening tools. The screening would not result in a diagnosis but would identify kids that need to be referred to a specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
This is where my one hesitation comes in. Given our nation’s severe problems with discrimination, school funding, insurance, and wealth inequality that leads to stark differences in parental involvement, there is the risk that the screening program would be a boon to the already well off and do very little for the already marginalized. The screening by itself doesn’t amount to much if the family can’t afford treatment and it’s not covered by their insurance. So, it could widen the achievement gap if not implemented well.
That’s definitely not a reason to ignore the recommendation, though. It just means we have to be careful when we set up screening and monitor it. It has the potential to directly help so many kids. And it has the potential to help reduce the stigma around mental health. As far as I’m concerned, they can’t start screenings soon enough.