|Back to Feb. Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 229||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||FEBRUARY 2005|
|Mental Health Screening|
National Plan Moves Ahead
|More Drugging of Children Likely|
The commission recommends "routine and comprehensive" mental health screening and testing for every child in America, including preschoolers. It proposes utilizing electronic medical records for mental health data which would be integrated with electronic health records. Schools are in a "key position" to screen the 52 million students and 6 million adults who work in schools.
The commission further recommends "linkage" of mental health examinations with "state-of-the-art treatments" using "specific medications for specific conditions." Such medications would include antidepressants and anti-psychotic drugs.
Parental consent language in the 2004 bill was deleted by the Senate last year. As a result, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has introduced a bill in the new Congress to forbid federal funds from being used for any universal or mandatory mental-health screening of students without the express, written, voluntary informed consent of their parents.
Congress's reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004 included language sponsored by Rep. Max Burns (R-GA) forbidding drug coercion of children as a condition of attending public schools. However, this law protects only special-needs children and covers only psycho-stimulants (such as Ritalin), not antidepressants or anti-psychotic drugs. Critics of drugging in schools are calling for a federal law prohibiting coerced drugging with any psycho-active medicine of any children in government schools.
Questions asked in the screening cast a very wide net. It is hard to imagine any teenager who would not answer some of the questions in the affirmative. (Sample questions.)
TeenScreen officials say that generally up to one-third of the students who undergo screening show some signs of mental health problems, and about half of those are referred to mental health services for a total of about 15% of the students screened. Parental consent is currently required for the screening questionnaire.
Sites have flexibility in who administers and scores the questionnaire. Often the test is conducted by a school psychologist, guidance counselor, social worker or college psychology student. Students whose scores raise red flags meet with a mental health professional - often a volunteer - and parents are notified.
The Alliance for Human Research Protection argues that screening "for hidden mental illnesses as if mental illness needs to be ferreted out and captured like a rabid animal" can open the door to discrimination and forced treatment. (The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 8-1-04)
In his whistleblower report, Allen Jones of the Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector General states that the "political/pharmaceutical alliance" that developed the Texas project - which promotes the use of newer, more expensive antidepressants and anti-psychotic drugs - was behind the recommendations of the New Freedom Commission. Those recommendations represent an effort to develop a "national policy to treat mental illness with expensive, patented medications of questionable benefit and deadly side effects, and to force private insurers to pick up more of the tab," he asserts.
Moreover, Jones cites ties between members of the New Freedom Commission and the Texas project or companies that helped start it, as well as ties between manufacturers of drugs recommended in the plan and the Bush family, campaign or administration.
The FDA decision came some ten months after regulators in the United Kingdom declared most antidepressants unsuitable for children under 18. (See Education Reporter, Feb. and June 2004 for a history of regulatory action on this issue.) It is unclear what, if any, effect the FDA decision will have on the New Freedom Commission's stated desire to increase the availability of antidepressants to schoolchildren.