Every adult younger than 65 should be screened for symptoms of anxiety, according to new recommendations from a health guidelines group that's followed by medical professionals across the nation.

Advocates suggest that such a move could uncover diagnoses of anxiety in many individuals who may have been battling with the mental health condition for years and perhaps couldn't put a name to their more severe symptoms.

"We know that untreated anxiety can lead to impairment in life — problems with relationships, problems with jobs," said Sue Heguy, associate vice president of child and family services for CarePlus NJ, a mental health and addiction treatment group based in Bergen County.

CarePlus is praising the draft recommendations released in late September by the U.S. Preventive Task Force, which notes that anxiety and depression, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors, affect the lives of many adults in the United States.

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The task force's statements and review have been posted for public comment, which will be accepted until Oct. 17.

"If we could screen individuals and find that they're symptomatic, its much easier to treat than waiting until someone has a full-blown impaired mental illness," Heguy said.

There is limited evidence on the benefits, or harms, of screening adults 65 or older for anxiety, the task force said.

While symptoms of impaired anxiety typically develop before age 21, people who experience traumatic events are more susceptible to developing anxiety later on in life, Heguy noted.

According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression nationwide.

Physicians could easily conduct a seven-question test for general anxiety disorder with their adult patients, Heguy said. That is currently not a common practice during routine checkups, she said.

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