Pediatric experts weigh benefits of anxiety screening in kids

ROCKFORD, Illinois (WIFR) — After seeing a surge in mental health cases, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that every child age 8 or older be screened for anxiety.

The task force has no regulatory authority, but their recommendations weigh heavily among clinicians. The reason for this recommendation is simple, anxiety in children is increasing.

“I don’t know if we have enough data to definitively know why it’s increasing, we just know it’s definitely increasing,” said Shanda Wells, a child psychologist at UW Health Kids.

“We already know that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among adolescents. So I think they’re trying to bend preemptively and get treatment for those younger kids before they get to that dangerous stage,” she told 23 News.

In fact, studies show that children ages 10 to 19 have a higher risk of suicide. Therapists say it’s difficult to detect because children don’t yet have the necessary coping mechanisms. The most effective treatment is something called cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT.

CBT is “based somewhat on the idea that how we think and act both affect how we feel. So if we can change our negative thoughts and our unhealthy actions, like children, we can change their bad feelings,” says April Lipnitzky, a licensed therapist with Rockford Family Counseling Services.

But, therapists and doctors agree, the child is safest when the disease is detected early.

“Early detection and educating people from an early age. Our families, our teachers, if we can start younger, boy, this will have a tremendous impact in the future,” Lipnitzky said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 7% of children ages 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and doctors say many children who struggle with it don’t necessarily get the diagnosis.

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