The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an influential panel of health experts, released a report stating U.S. doctors should regularly screen all adults under 65 for anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health complaints, affecting about 40% of U.S. women at some point in their lives and more than 1 in 4 men. 

“This is news to a lot of physicians and the recommendation at least is going to the US Preventive Task Force is that we ought to screen for this like we screened for depression, colon cancer breast cancer hasn’t been approved yet. We need the US Preventive task force to make a decision and we’ll hopefully we’ll hear about that in the next couple of weeks,” said Dr. David Winter, Baylor Scott & White Health.

This is the first time the task force has recommended anxiety screening in primary care for adults without symptoms. The proposal is open for public comment until Oct. 17, but the group usually affirms its draft guidance.

The recommendations are based on a review that began before the COVID-19 pandemic, evaluating studies showing potential benefits and risks from screening. Given reports of a surge in mental health problems linked with pandemic isolation and stress, the guidance is “very timely,” said Lori Pbert, a task force member and co-author. Pbert is a psychologist-researcher at the University of Massachusetts’ Chan Medical School.

The task force said evidence for benefits, including effective treatments, outweighs any risks, which include inaccurate screening results that could lead to unnecessary follow-up care.

Guidelines from the task force often determine insurance coverage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.