AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s new advice from a group of doctors and leading experts recommending children as early as 8 years old to have their mental health routinely screened — even if they don’t show any signs of problems.
These recommendations were released this week by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
According to the recommendations, kids 8 years old and older should get screened for anxiety. Universal screenings for depression are recommended for kids 12 years old and up.
Dr. Thomas Kim with the Texas Medical Associated joined KXAN News to explain what this means for families.
To screen a child’s mental health, Kim said a health professional — maybe at their pediatrician’s office — will ask them a series of questions.
“It is a validated way of identifying the possibility of the presence of anxiety,” Kim said. “It’s not so much a formal diagnostic tool as it is a formal intention to be looking for things like anxiety.”
Anxiety is something health professionals are seeing more, Kim said, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He commended the task force for issuing the recommendations.
Kim said human development is complex and rapidly changing, so parents should look out for changes in their child’s behavior that are different from their baseline demeanor.
“Anxiety and depression for that matter express itself in different ways. Whether it’s a withdrawal of where they used to be playful or the opposite, with more aggression and acting out,” Kim explained.
Kim hopes the new recommendations encourage parents to take preventive measures for their child to identify problems while they’re still manageable.
“Unfortunately, mental health stigma is still a thing,” Kim said, “and as a result, oftentimes people tend to shy away or ignore mental distress until it becomes so severe that more costly, more robust interventions are required up to hospitalization.”
If a parent has any gut concerns, Kim said it’s okay to bring those concerns to a pediatrician during the child’s annual checkup.