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Panel Pushes for Regular Mental Health Screening

Panel Pushes for Regular Mental Health Screening

On Tuesday the US Preventative Services Panel put forth a proposal that doctors should screen patients under age 65 for anxiety regardless of symptoms. Teenagers & young adults have been especially vulnerable to the mental health crisis. Online mental health companies have made a fortune during the pandemic and mental health apps like Cerebral have been sued for pushing ADHD medication with TikTok ads that look like real posts designed to make teenagers feel overweight and generally encourage low self-esteem. 

According to Stat+: "online mental health companies are seeing a small drop in new businesses adding telehealth as part of its employee insurance plan" something that’s been gaining popularity since 2018. “During its Elevate conference earlier this month, mental health company Modern Health presented a report commissioned from Forrester that urges companies to “shift from crisis to culture,” suggesting that flicking at mental health with hastily adopted efforts isn’t enough.”

What Would Regular Screening Accomplish for Who? For a patient, it may help identify anxiety and connect individuals to a therapist sooner than later. It can also encourage a patient to incorporate more exercise, better, diet, sleep, and stress management practices. It may help overcome the stigma around getting the right modality of help if it’s coming from a medical doctor. What it also does is leverage the trend of medicalizing psychiatry in the physical sense. Compared to conventional medicine, the field of psychiatry is so recent and still a soft science compared to medicine. One example of trying to medicalize psychiatry resulted in the employment of lobotomies. Screening for anxiety is not like a nose swab to test for covid, or an X-Ray for a fractured arm, or checking bloodwork for a patient. But it’ll be physicians carrying out the screening, not mental health professionals.

Doctors are often working on a ticking clock with each patient and making doctors conduct these screenings takes time for something that isn’t even in their scope of practice. Today it’s common to see a poster in a doctor’s office that shows faces that range from very unhappy to happy faces. These posters were peddled to doctor’s offices by Purdue Pharma as a tactic to make it easier for patients to express pain and get a prescription for Purdue’s oxycontin. 

Recently CVS and Walgreens settled on a pay-out for their role in the opioid crisis, Purdue paid up but not enough to really hurt the company, and nothing in the system has significantly changed to safeguard pharma from using the exact same tactics again. Earlier this year Pendulum also covered that the commonly held assumption that depression comes from a serotonin or chemical imbalance is false. Anti-depressants help many people, but it’s not because that category of drugs fixes a chemical imbalance. At this point in time, we don’t know why they work. It’s a similar situation with bipolar medication, it works for most people, most of the time, but we don’t know why. It seems likely this screening will come into practice, and a lot of people would probably just lie their way through anxiety screening questions like TSA screening questions at the airport if the screening becomes standard practice. For those who would take the screening to heart; the youth growing up in a “mental health crisis campaign” are the most susceptible. 

The New York Times recently covered a teen who was on 10+ medications a day, and that is not too unusual. Media portrays this screening as a step forward for mental health in a post-covid world, but it also looks like another way in which the “war on drugs” has become “the war for drugs”. 

Brooke’s Take: This type of screening practice reminds me of an expression used to sell health products, “if you’re not testing, you’re guessing.” This simple phrase is an effective sales line to get people to pay for tests, and if the test doesn’t come back perfect it encourages someone to make purchases to get the score up. These screenings could easily encourage patients to medicate to reach a vague standard of “optimal mental health”.

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