For the first time, an influential health panel is responding to the nation’s mental health crisis by recommending routine anxiety screenings in adults under 65.
To which we say, “Finally. It’s about time.”
When it comes to mental health concerns, the conversation around destigmatization couldn’t be more timely. In the wake of a global pandemic, we need to be talking openly about our experiences with mental health and routine anxiety screenings could be just the vehicle for opening up this dialogue.
But for working mothers, this recommendation is long overdue.
Anxiety disorders collectively make up the most common mental health concerns in the United States, affecting approximately one-third of adults at least once in their lifetime. Of these, women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This figure doesn’t account for the cases which go undetected or without treatment, adding to the urgency of regular screenings.
Being that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is extending this recommendation to adults aged 19 to 64, it’s worth noting that this broad age range comprises the vast majority of the workforce. Factor in the fact that women are far more likely to be afflicted with anxiety disorders than men, and it couldn’t be more obvious: working mothers are feeling the mental health crisis, and seemingly, always have.
This is not to say that men don’t experience anxiety; of course they do. However, women are typically socialized to be more emotionally expressive than men. The more “recognizable” signs of anxiety (panic attacks, heart palpitations, jittery limbs, etc.) may be more openly brought to medical attention by women, whereas men may manifest their symptoms in less apparent ways.
With that said, the unique evolution of the modern woman lends itself to profound mental and emotional strain. The simultaneous juggle of home, family, and career has long been exposing cracks- cracks that would become breaks.
The pandemic exposed and magnified the disproportionate expectations placed on women, and particularly working mothers. On average, full-time working mothers spend 50% more time on childcare daily than full-time working fathers. While it’s certainly nothing new for women to be cast into a caretaking role, the practical and emotional burden of being the “anchor” of the family takes its toll.
Ironically, when it comes to the addition of routine anxiety screenings, the recommendation itself presumes upon the exploitation of female labor-- in the United States, women make up 77.6% of healthcare workers. In a field of professionals already thoroughly worn down and under-resourced, it’s difficult to consider adding yet another spinning plate. There has been pushback on these recommendations from a number of concerned medical workers, and for good reason. “Pink-collar” professions are under more strain than ever, adding to the collective exhaustion (and mental health struggle) across the country.
Are you struggling?
Many signs of anxiety slip under the radar, simply because we don’t think of them as symptoms. Dissociation, procrastination, and sudden burnout are all common indicators of an underlying anxiety issue. You may avoid going to sleep due to frequent nightmares-- or because lying in bed alone with your thoughts is a nightmare in and of itself. Maybe you’re more inclined to spend your free time sinking into the nearest screen than investing in self-care. Or maybe you’re hyper-fixated on controlling your environment, striving to conquer every variable you can… because what you can’t control only fans the flames of anxiety. And the cycle continues.
These symptoms don’t always indicate an anxiety disorder, but being aware of them can help with early detection and treatment. When we have the resources to manage our anxiety, we are empowered to live more fully.
Routine anxiety screenings may still be pending in general healthcare within the U.S., but that doesn’t mean we can’t take the initiative to consult with our healthcare provider to pursue assessments ourselves.
Anxiety is a drain on valuable energy. When anxiety is managed or treated, there is a greater capacity to embrace life. We are able to better show up for our family and friends, sustain a healthy relationship, and perform to our potential in our career. If you are struggling with feelings of anxiety, take the first step and talk to your healthcare provider.