Here are six brief points about why mental health screening as it is currently planned is potentially harmful to young people.
President Bush proposes making “mental health screening” a “common practice” for adults and children.
Here is why MindFreedom International opposes these “mental health screening” programs.
President Bush and his New Freedom Commission on Mental Health recommend screening all Americans for mental health problems starting with youth through their schools. This screening has already started in a number of schools.
We call for the immediate halt to these screening programs. Instead, we call for the implementation of far better alternatives for mental and emotional care.
Until a broken and dangerous mental health system is fixed, mental health screening just adds fuel to the fire.
Screening programs threaten to place hundreds of thousands of American youth on a conveyor belt type approach toward psychiatric labeling and drugging.
Current mental health screening programs have specific steps. A screened individual is evaluated for a diagnosis. A diagnosed individual is frequently prescribed psychiatric drugs. For some the end result has even been forced drugging over the objections of the subject and their family (source: Mother Jones 5/05).
The vast majority of Americans want to ensure that troubled kids and adults receive humane and safe help. However, there is ample evidence that the mental health system in the United States is now causing a great deal of harm.
For example, the mental health system is based on a diagnostic labeling system that has been shown to be unscientific.
Also, the Food and Drug Administration has recently acknowledged that anti-depressants carry serious risks to children, adolescents, and adults. Other psychotropic drugs have also been shown to carry serious risks of harm. This is of particular concern because of the skyrocketing rates of prescription of psychotropic drugs of all kinds for children and adolescents.
Some proponents of screening argue that they are not calling for “universal” or “manadatory” screening. But whatever words are used to describe it, the fact is that massive and extensive screening programs heavily influenced by the psychiatric drug industry are entering many schools today.
When the President of the United States announces he wants mental health screening of youth to be a “common practice” that is a lot of pressure on schools, kids and families. This is exactly what President Bush did when he endorsed his New Freedom Commission’s Goal Four.
In order to provide help for people who need and want it without causing additional harm, the following safeguards need to be implemented:
(1) STOP CURRENT SCREENING PROGRAMS IMMEDIATELY.
The moment one applies mental health screening methods such as “TeenScreen” and “TMAP” on the basis of flawed diagnostic systems and questionnaires, one is making the problem worse. Screening misses some people with serious emotional problems on the one hand, and, on the other hand, mistakenly classifies other people as pathological. Questionnaires and formal diagnostic interviews often fail to catch kids who are going to kill themselves, for example.
(2) PAY MORE ATTENTION TO YOUTH IN A COMMON SENSE WAY.
A child ought to have the opportunity to voluntarily talk with caring adults about the things that are upsetting them in whatever setting they are, including schools. That non-medical, common sense approach is better because it yields real life qualitative information, not simplistic quantitative data like questionnaires.
(3) FULLY INFORM FAMILIES.
The public needs to be educated that many current mental health programs may be harmful to one’s health. The public needs to hear that psychiatric drug companies helped create and promote many of these screening programs to get more customers for the highest priced drugs.
Fully informed consent should always be required in any kind of mental health care. Full informed consent means explaining to children and their parents or guardians about the full range of approaches that can be helpful. Families need to know about the hazards of psychotropic drugs and the lack of clinical trials for young subjects. Today, primarily only two approaches are recommended almost exclusively: drugs and traditional types of psychotherapy which which tend to be rigid and limited.
(4) END THE BIAS TOWARD PSYCHIATRIC DRUGS IN MENTAL HEALTH CARE.
For families who do seek mental and emotional care, there ought to be no cookie-cutter like “algorithm” or “protocol” that unfairly favors the use of psychiatric drugs above all other options. The psychiatric drug industry has unfair influence throughout the mental health system making it unsafe. Physical, nutritional or environmental pollutant problems are seldom addressed.
(5) PROVIDE HUMANE AND SAFE ALTERNATIVES.
A wide range of alternatives to drugs and traditional psychotherapy must be available to all who seek them. When there are only one or two “choices” for those who are desperate, that is one of the most insidious and subtle kinds of coercion.
(6) ADVOCACY AT ALL LEVELS.
Effective advocacy programs, including peer support when possible, ought to be widely available to help people gain access to the employment, educational and other social services they may choose.
Advocates ought to help support the empowerment of individuals and families who wish to avoid unethical professionals and mental health agencies who may exploit and harm them. Advocates must help our democracy get more “hands on” with the mental health system.
Making screening “common practice” threatens the health and human rights of thousands of Americans. Therefore we call for an immediate halt to these screening programs.
[1 October 2005]