Myths and Facts About Minnesota's
Plan to Screen the Mental Health of Toddlers
Karen R. Effrem, MD
EdWatch Board of Directors
May 11, 2005
Minnesota Senate's plan to screen the mental health of 3 year olds will
put it in the same league as Illinois, whose oppressive Children's Mental
Health Act now requires mental health screening for all children entering
kindergarten and during the transition to junior high and high
originally introduced, the Minnesota bill, authored by Senator David
Tomassoni and Representative Mindy Greiling, would have required
this 'socioemotional' screening before entering kindergarten. Thanks to
the good work of Senators Betsy Wergin and Sean Nienow, and sensing the
enormous opposition to screening such young children, Senator Tomassoni
allowed the inclusion of an opt-in parental consent requirement.
this provision, however, mental health screening of toddlers is
extremely dangerous!! The diagnostic criteria are vague
and subjective and can be based on political or religious beliefs, and
children are being coercively screened and drugged with dangerous and
ineffective medications. Below are some myths and facts regarding mental
health screening. Detailed information on each of these points and
more is available by clicking
here to our
Myth: Psychiatric diagnostic criteria are scientifically
validated and non-controversial among experts.
Fact: Mental health diagnostic criteria are very vague and
subjective. The very studies and reports cited by proponents of universal
screening are full of contradictions. These experts admit the lack of
science underlying psychiatric labels.
Myth: It is possible to accurately diagnose mental
illness in young children, even infants. 'Even before their first
birthday, babies can suffer from clinical depression, traumatic stress
disorder, and a variety of other mental health problems.' (Florida
Strategic Plan for Infant Mental Health)
- 'In other words, what it means to be mentally healthy is subject to
many different interpretations that are rooted in value judgments that
may vary across cultures.'
General Report on Mental Health. 1999. p. 1-5)
- 'No consistent structural, functional, or chemical neurological
marker is found in children with the ADHD diagnosis as currently
formulated.' (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder State of the
Science - Best Practices, Peter S. Jensen and James R. Cooper, Eds, Civic
Research Institute, Kingston, N.J. 2000, p. 3-7)
Fact: Due to rapid developmental changes, it is very difficult
to accurately diagnose young children.
Myth: Children are not adequately treated for mental
- 'Childhood and adolescence being developmental phases, it is
difficult to draw clear boundaries between phenomena that are part of
normal development and others that are abnormal.' (World Health
Organization, World Health Report, 2001)
- 'The science is challenging because of the ongoing process of
development. The normally developing child hardly stays the same long
enough to make stable measurements. Adult criteria for illness can be
difficult to apply to children and adolescents, when the signs and
symptoms of mental disorders are often also the characteristics of normal
Fact: Children are over diagnosed and over treated with
psychiatric medications and both problems will increase with wide spread
Myth: Children would never be labeled potentially violent
or mentally unstable based on their worldview or politics.
- 300% increase in psychotropic drug use in 2-4 year old children
between 1991-1995 (JAMA, 2000)
- More spent on psychiatric medications for children than on
antibiotics or asthma medication in 2003 (Medco Trends, 2004)
Fact: Federally funded school violence prevention programs do
label children based on their beliefs. A federally funded study held that
people of a particular political philosophy had hallmarks of mental
Myth: The decision to treat a child with psychotropic
medications is always between a parent and their physician.
- A school violence prevention program funded by the federal government
called Early Warning, Timely Response lists 'intolerance for others and
prejudicial attitudes as an early warning sign for violence and mental
instability, saying, 'All children have likes and dislikes. However, an
intense prejudice toward others based on racial, ethnic, religious,
language, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and physical appearance
when coupled with other factors may lead to violent assaults against
those who are perceived to be different.' (U.S. Department of Education -
Warning, Timely Response Action Guide)
Fact: Parent all over the country have been coerced with
threats of child abuse or to place their children on or continue
psychiatric medications prompting over 20 state legislatures and the US
Congress to introduce or pass legislation prohibiting coercion.
Myth: Psychiatric drug treatments are effective in children.
Fact: Neither antidepressants like Prozac nor stimulants like Ritalin are effective in children, but pharmaceutical companies, with the approval of the FDA, only published positive studies despite having evidence for years of their ineffectiveness.
Myth: Psychiatric drugs are safe for children.
- 'More than two-thirds of studies of antidepressants given to depressed children, for instance, found the medications were no better than sugar pills, but companies published only the positive trials' (Vedatam, Washington Post, 9/9/04, p. A02)
- 'However, psychostimulants do not appear to achieve long-term changes in outcomes such as peer relationships, social or academic skills, or school achievement.' (Pelham, et. al. as quoted in Surgeon General, 1999)
Fact: Evidence of dangerous and sometimes deadly side effects of psychiatric medication has been covered up for years by the pharmaceutical manufacturers, sometimes with the help of the FDA.
- 'Dr. Robert Temple, director of the FDA's office of medical policy, said after an emotional public hearing here that analyses of 15 clinical trials, some of which were hidden for years from the public by the drug companies that sponsored them, showed a consistent link with suicidal behavior.' (Harris, New York Times, 9/14/04, p. A01)
- "These drugs also impair flexible problem-solving and divergent thinking. James Swanson, a researcher for the U.S. Department of Education and leading Ritalin advocate, stated in a 1992 review of the medical literature that this type of 'cognitive toxicity' may occur at commonly prescribed clinical doses of stimulants, and in up to 40% of patients." (Breggin, P., (2001) Talking Back to Ritalin, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Perseus, pp. 49-50)