Experts suggesting screening kids 8 and older for anxiety

Tips on managing anxiety as US adjusts to new normal
Posted at 6:06 AM, May 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-03 08:55:51-04

(WXYZ) — An influential group of experts now recommends that every child aged 8 and older be screened for anxiety. It was big news when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made that announcement, but it also created some big questions.

Why age 8? And why focus on anxiety? We're going in-depth to see what children and parents need to know.

Since the start of the pandemic, 20% of kids reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety, according to a public health advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General. And now a recommendation for anxiety screening at age 8.

"They're transitioning into school. Grade school is becoming more complicated," Dr. Robert DeMercurio, a psychiatrist at Ascension Eastwood Behavioral Health said.

He says beginning around the age of 8, kids are spending more time away from home and in social settings which is more likely to create anxiety. Even though kids are not little adults, by 8, they’re gaining the tools to express their emotions.

"They're probably at a kind of a developmental phase where they're better able to participate in the screening process," DeMercurio said.

Younger kids can also suffer from anxiety, so parents should be aware of avoidant behavior – things like not wanting to go to school or play with friends. Anxiety can also trigger our fight or flight response.

"They might see an increase in aggression, that kind of fighting response, or they might be very fearful, or they might feel down or depressed," DeMercurio said.

Left unchecked, anxiety can lead to other issues. Short-term effects can include muscle tension, pounding headaches, nausea, elevated blood pressure and sleep disturbances.

Long-term effects can include depression and anxiety disorders later in life.

Dr. Jason Vannest of Rochester-based Vannest Counseling says if parents believe their child is struggling with anxiety, they should get help.

He says seeking help for mental and emotional issues should be the same as getting help for physical injuries.

"If we have those types of problems, we go to a podiatrist, or you go to an ENT to seek out help. Mental health help should be considered the same way," he said.

Parents may fear more screening and diagnosing anxiety in children will mean more kids on medications. But initial treatment for anxiety doesn't involve drugs.

Here are some ways to reduce anxiety and improve your mood.

  • Cut out sugary food and drinks
  • Limit caffeine
  • Improve sleep
  • Boost physical activity
  • Get Social
  • Use medication and mindfulness apps

there's also cognitive behavior therapy, also known as CBT.

"Which is shown to be very effective in managing the symptoms of anxiety without medication," Vannest said.

Vannest points out that anxiety is an umbrella term, and we are usually talking about generalized anxiety. But the term also includes posttraumatic stress, social anxiety, and panic disorders.

But the first-line treatment for all of those issues would be talk therapy and not medication. You want to help kids and adults develop the tools to identify and cope with the stressors.