Screening for Anxiety in Children and Adolescents: Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force

JAMA. 2022 Oct 11;328(14):1445-1455. doi: 10.1001/jama.2022.16303.


Importance: Anxiety in children and adolescents is associated with impaired functioning, educational underachievement, and future mental health conditions.

Objective: To review the evidence on screening for anxiety in children and adolescents to inform the US Preventive Services Task Force.

Data sources: PubMed, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and trial registries through July 19, 2021; references, experts, and surveillance through June 1, 2022.

Study selection: English-language, randomized clinical trials (RCTs) of screening; diagnostic test accuracy studies; RCTs of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or US Food and Drug Administration-approved pharmacotherapy; RCTs, observational studies, and systematic reviews reporting harms.

Data extraction and synthesis: Two reviewers assessed titles/abstracts, full-text articles, and study quality and extracted data; when at least 3 similar studies were available, meta-analyses were conducted.

Main outcomes and measures: Test accuracy, symptoms, response, remission, loss of diagnosis, all-cause mortality, functioning, suicide-related symptoms or events, adverse events.

Results: Thirty-nine studies (N = 6065) were included. No study reported on the direct benefits or harms of screening on health outcomes. Ten studies (n = 3260) reported the sensitivity of screening instruments, ranging from 0.34 to 1.00, with specificity ranging from 0.47 to 0.99. Twenty-nine RCTs (n = 2805) reported on treatment: 22 on CBT, 6 on pharmacotherapy, and 1 on CBT, sertraline, and CBT plus sertraline. CBT was associated with gains on several pooled measures of symptom improvement (magnitude of change varied by outcome measure), response (pooled relative risk [RR], 1.89 [95% CI, 1.17 to 3.05]; n = 606; 6 studies), remission (RR, 2.68 [95% CI, 1.48 to 4.88]; n = 321; 4 studies), and loss of diagnosis (RR range, 3.02-3.09) when compared with usual care or wait-list controls. The evidence on functioning for CBT was mixed. Pharmacotherapy, when compared with placebo, was associated with gains on 2 pooled measures of symptom improvement-mean difference (Pediatric Anxiety Rating Scale mean difference, -4.0 [95% CI, -5.5 to -2.5]; n = 726; 5 studies; and Clinical Global Impression-Severity scale mean difference, -0.84 [95% CI, -1.13 to -0.55]; n = 550; 4 studies) and response (RR, 2.11 [95% CI, 1.58 to 2.98]; n = 370; 5 studies)-but was mixed on measures of functioning. Eleven RCTs (n = 1293) reported harms of anxiety treatments. Suicide-related harms were rare, and the differences were not statistically significantly different.

Conclusions and relevance: Indirect evidence suggested that some screening instruments were reasonably accurate. CBT and pharmacotherapy were associated with benefits; no statistically significant association with harms was reported.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Advisory Committees
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / prevention & control
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy
  • Anxiety* / diagnosis
  • Anxiety* / prevention & control
  • Anxiety* / therapy
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening* / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • United States