Health Dept Task Force Recommends Mental Illness Screenings for All U.S. Adults

Depression, suicide and gun ownership.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an influential panel appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services, has released its recommendation that all U.S. adults over the age of 18 undergo a mental illness evaluation as part of their regular health check-ups.

According to a statement released Monday:

The USPSTF recommends screening for depression in the general adult population, including pregnant and postpartum women. Screening should be implemented with adequate systems in place to ensure accurate diagnosis, effective treatment, and appropriate follow-up.

The USPSTF assigns a grade letter, A-D, to each of its recommendations. The mental health profile received a "B," meaning: "There is high certainty that the net benefit is moderate or there is moderate certainty that the net benefit is moderate to substantial."

To that end, the USPSTF looked at depression as not only a significant health problem in the U.S., but also the economic impact. Official numbers show that nearly $23 billion was spent on depression treatment in 2009, along with another $23 billion in 2011 based on lost productivity cost.

The report makes a recommendation that all adults should be screened at least once, though the "optimal frequency of such screening has not been established." Thus the "B" grade; the panel is only "moderately" certain that blanket screenings could bring those billions down. However, that score does qualify the screenings for coverage under Obamacare.

Mental illness is a hot topic these days, especially in regard to President Obama's latest push for gun control earlier this month. With executive actions aimed at getting guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, the timing of this report's release is rather curious. It seems reasonable to assume that mass screenings will produce more diagnoses of depression, even for those patients who showed up a little blue that day. But maybe that's the point: the more people there are that can be labeled "mentally ill" (indeed a disservice to those suffering from actual mental illnesses), the less gun permits approved.

The task force is made up of 16 volunteer medical experts and describes itself as "independent of the U.S. Government" and notes that any recommendations "should not be construed as an official position of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."

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