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Social and Emotional Learning


January 26, 2005

The 109th Congress will be dealing with mental health issues, as will state legislatures around the country. See our Universal Mental Health Screening Briefing Book, complete with a CD. See also the State Mental Health Legislation for use in your own state.

Mental health screening is being implemented in states at a very rapid pace. A few examples:

The good news is that Cong. Ron Paul has introduced his bill, HR 181, The Parental Consent Act of 2005, to prohibit the use of Federal funds for any universal or mandatory mental health screening program. We will keep you up-to-date on that.

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Following are excerpts from two recently published articles providing background on the issues:

Excerpts from: WHAT? ARE YOU CRAZY ?
B. K. Eakman:

A new nationwide initiative has been quietly in the making since 2002...

The New Freedom Initiative - a plan to screen the entire U.S. population for mental illness and to provide a cradle-to-grave continuum of services for those identified as mentally ill or at risk of becoming so. Under the plan, schools would become the hub of the screening process -­ not only for children, but for their parents and teachers. There are even components aimed at senior citizens, pregnant women, and new mothers...

Recently, the New Freedom Commission designated TMAP a “model” medication treatment plan, whereupon President Bush instructed more than 25 federal agencies to develop a nationwide “implementation plan.” ...

Kevin P. Dwyer, president of the National Association of School Psychologists,... [is a] typical defender of early, mass screening. This “valuable information [is] almost impossible to obtain from any other source…,” Dwyer once complained. True, most adults would see right through such attempts. That is why he worries that the flood of lawsuits from parents over invasive, personal test questions under the cover of academic testing (in Virginia, Arizona, Utah, Pennsylvania, among other states) might result in a negative court ruling that would prompt legislators to nix all psychological surveys in schools.

Special interests as well as various social “service” agencies and universities all pitch “prevention” programs (many of them quasi-political, such as those on AIDS awareness), to federal agencies in an effort to get tell-all polls into America’s classrooms. Most are “What-would-you-do-if…?” questionnaires and self-reports that focus on sex, race, depression, drugs, and parents. These surveys are followed by a smorgasbord of nonacademic programs. The rationale is that it is in the best interests of the child and society to “[create] a State-level structure for school-based mental health services to provide consistent State-level leadership and collaboration between education, general health, and mental health systems.” The enabling vehicle for the New Freedom Initiative is the No Child Left Behind Act, ostensibly to “fulfill the promise of NCLB…by remov[ing] the emotional, behavioral, and academic barriers that interfere with student success in school.”

The commission aims not only to assess youngsters, but “to expand school mental health programs and evaluate parents” ­ through Parts B and C of IDEA. 

The commission advocates examining parents and homes for anything that might point to a “physical or mental condition [with] a high probability of resulting in a [child’s] developmental delay” ­ something way beyond the present capabilities of the mental health profession ­ beginning with a mandatory Nurse-Family Partnership component.

Why the extraordinary emphasis on parents? The Commission and, indeed, most of the mental health community believe that mental “disorders” of parents occurring before children reach the age of six “can interfere with critical emotional, cognitive, and physical development, and portend a lifetime of problems in school, at home, and in the community.” Therefore, “treating the parents’ mental health problems also benefits the child.”

“Treating parents” means psychotherapy and drugs, and the initiative calls for a mandate to provide “social and emotional check-ups” in all primary healthcare facilities. This means parents are supposed to be surreptitiously assessed for mental “illness” every time they walk into their physician’s office...

If you think the “coercion” scenario is too strong, consider:  In August 2003, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation announced the results of their $1.2 million, taxpayer-funded study. It stated, essentially, that traditionalists are mentally disturbed.

Scholars from the Universities of Maryland, California at Berkeley, and Stanford had determined that social conservatives, in particular, suffer from “mental rigidity,” “dogmatism,” and “uncertainty avoidance,” together with associated indicators for mental illness. Some conservatives and political pundits chortled over the so-called study, but the fact remains that nothing marginalizes a person faster today than a suggestion of being mentally unbalanced. The 20-year-long practice of psychographic (emotional-attitudinal) profiling under the cover of academic testing in schools is already intimidating conservative and Christian students and their parents into silence.

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December 15, 2004
Are your children crazy?
BYLINE: JANE ORIENT, M.D.
(Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons)

Excerpts:

Congress and President Bush apparently think that a lot of children have a "mental health" problem. Or that enough of them do to justify taking millions of dollars from taxpayers to fund a universal "mental health screening" for children, and eventually for everyone.

Personally, I think -- from the perspective of a person who never had any -- that almost all children act crazy. Those who don't are, by definition, abnormal, because they don't act like the others.

The main problem with about half of them is that they are boys. Such children are obviously made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails. On the farm there is a solution for that: a procedure for turning boy lambs into non-ram lambs. After a quick little operation, they act like peaceful little lambs instead of aggressive, disruptive rams.

We don't do surgery like that on little boys, of course, but we do have our methods: such as behavioral therapy and chemicals.

There are those who argue with some passion that society has to do something. Bad, disruptive, antisocial or depressed little kids make lots of trouble for parents and schoolteachers. Worse, they can grow up into dysfunctional, unhappy or troublemaking adults. That snotty little boy might become a dissenting, nonconformist or even a rebellious man, who could throw a monkey wrench into our smoothly functioning society. We have to catch them early -- for their own good.

Teams of experts are awaiting the infusion of cash. They'll be ensconced in your child's school before you even know it. A bonus is that your little darlings will probably give them quite a bit of information about you also, and then you too can receive therapy you didn't know you needed.

Do you sometimes raise your voice? Ever spank them? Hug them inappropriately? Have politically incorrect attitudes? Use forbidden words? Own a gun? Smoke cigarettes, especially indoors? Read extremist literature? Refuse to recycle? Prepare for a knock on the door.

There are many tools at the disposal of the mental health squad. Counseling sessions. Drugs (Ritalin, antidepressants, tranquilizers, maybe some new ones that need to be tested on some experimental subjects of your child's age). Group therapy. Removing the child from the home. (This may be a "last resort," but often the mere threat can accomplish wonders.)

If an interview with a child raises concerns, the next step might be a home visit. This could discover poor parenting skills, inadequate housekeeping, harmful literature, or a baby who is crying or has a bruise (signs of abuse?)...

In fact, parents ought to be asking some very serious questions before the government experts interview the first child:

What are the credentials of the screeners? Most importantly, how many children have they raised to adulthood, and with what outcome?

What are the criteria for possible abnormality? What is the scientific validation? How often do different observers agree? Have any long-term studies shown a solid correlation with adult performance in life? Do today's oddball children fail, or might they turn into our greatest achievers?

Will you be allowed to get a second opinion? Can you see the record and enter corrections if indicated? Will the record at any point be destroyed, or will the stigma of a diagnosis such as "personality disorder" follow the child throughout life?

What will happen if your child fails the screen? What sort of treatment will be given? Who will supervise it? What if you don't approve of it?

What's the very worst thing that the program will have the power to do to you or your child, say if your worst enemy was to gain control of it?

Who might profit from the program (perhaps discoverable by asking who lobbied for it)? Do drug companies expect to have a large number of new consumers of their psychoactive drugs?

What are the results of studies of long-term use of drugs like Ritalin, which has effects on the brain similar to those of cocaine? Have there even been any such studies?

Can you refuse to participate in the program? If you do refuse, what are the repercussions?

What is the evidence that the program, at best, will be anything other than a waste of millions of dollars? Miraculously, throughout human history most of those crazy children have become stable, productive adults without federally mandated psychiatric treatment. Still more amazingly, their parents have managed also.

Psychiatry in the hands of government, instead of independent physicians who are working for patients, reeks of Orwell's "1984" or the Soviet era. The very need to ask the questions should tell us the right answer for this program:  It's crazy.

(Dr. Jane M. Orient is an internist practicing in Tucson, Ariz., and executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.)