AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Medical experts are now recommending anxiety and depression screenings as part of routine wellness visits for children. 

The advice was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It recommends all children in the U.S. have screenings for anxiety beginning at age 8 and screenings for depression beginning at age 12. 

“This is a really important and significant change and one that’s really needed, honestly,” said Jenna Glover, Ph.D., director of psychology training at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Kids’ mental health declared an emergency

Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a state of emergency in 2021. Glover said between 2016-19, depression and anxiety rates increased by 24-27%.

“And then after the pandemic hit and the amount of stress kids were experiencing, those rates just continued to rise,” Glover said.

The hospital reported a sharp increase last year in the number of patients coming into their emergency department because of a suicide attempt.

“If we could have caught these kids downstream 2-3 months earlier, we could have done interventions that would have prevented them from being in the emergency department and being in extreme distress, and for some kids, being in life-threatening situations,” Glover said. 

Making mental health screenings routine

Glover said routine screenings could offer a simple solution to help more children before they are in crisis. 

“Screeners can be really short. They can be just a couple of questions,” she said. 

According to Glover, physicians will be asking about a child’s eating and sleeping habits, if they are experiencing frequent headaches or stomach aches and if they feel upset easily. 

Additionally, she said it will help the topic feel less taboo. 

“This absolutely will help de-stigmatize concerns around mental health problems, because everybody has mental health problems, just like everybody has headaches and colds,” Glover said. 

What about access to mental health care?

However, the recommendation raises concerns about access to mental health services. 

“One of the downsides of us identifying more kids is just acknowledging we do not have enough mental health providers to meet these needs,” Glover said. 

The addition of mental health screenings to wellness exams is just a recommendation, not a requirement. There is no formal rollout or start date for the screenings. 

“If we don’t do something earlier on to catch it, we’re going to have a lot of youth that their development is going to be impacted and it doesn’t have to be,” Glover said.