Mental health: soon a systematic screening for anxiety?

Some present anxiety as the new evil of the century. To deal with it, a group of American researchers, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Forcehas just recommended for the first time to doctors to screen for anxiety in all adult patients under 65 years of age. Objective ? Detect and quickly take care of any mental health disorder to prevent it from getting worse over time. Their directives, reported in an article in the New York Times this Tuesday, September 20 (source 1), are not unanimous.

“These recommendations come at a time of critical need,” said Lori Pbert, a clinical psychologist, task force member and professor at the University of Massachusetts Chan School of Medicine. inordinate levels of anxiety since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our only hope is that our recommendations highlight the need to create better access to mental health care – and urgently, she adds.

What support after screening?

On paper, the original idea is more than commendable. But for many actors, a question remains about the implementation and the real interest of this measure. As pointed out by the New York Timesthese screening programs are only useful if they result in effective patient care.. Which may not be the case.

“At a time when the country lacks mental health resources at all levels – psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists – this is a real concern,” said Dr. Jeffrey Staab, chair of the department of psychiatry at a Minnesota clinic. , to the American daily.

The professionals interviewed also underline another limitation: screening should only be the first step towards a diagnosis, not evidence of a clinical disorder. The objective is not to medicate everyone. “When providers say, ‘You must have this condition, take this medicine,’ we could face an overprescription problem“, stressed Dr. Staab. “But the opposite scenario is that a lot of people suffer when they shouldn’t”. So you have to find the right balance…

Is such a measure relevant in France?

Questioned by our colleagues from Doctissimo on this subject (source 2), the psychiatrist Joachim Mullner wants to be optimistic. “The fact that we consider mental health disorders should be screened for just as much as other illnesses like breast cancer or high blood pressure, seems like a very good thing to me!” he says.

And to add: “The prevention, detection and treatment of psychiatric disorders should be a national public health priority, as their number is so important and is currently exploding in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, our modes life in overdrive, and particularly anxiety-provoking political and economic crises”. According to him, this approach can only be relevant, given the economic cost linked to poor screening and much too late management of psychiatric disorders in France.

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