Should America's school children be screened and labeled?

The final report of the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, issued in 2004, calls for universal mental health screening of universal mental health screening of American children, and the Center for Mental Health Services and Congress are poised to move forward to implement a screening initiative.

Critics insist that unless this screening initiative is stopped, thousands, if not millions of children will be "diagnosed" with dubious, stigmatizing mental illnesses that will follow them for the rest of their lives; schools will be transformed into mental health laboratories and drug dispensing clinics. (Most psychiatric drugs have not been approved for use in children.) Some regard this initiative as a massive diversion of tax dollars to the pharmaceutical industry, which stands to gain the most from mental health screening because it will expand the pool of mental patients.

A report in Psychiatric Times confirms an aggressive New Freedom Commission screening plan which: "even in the absence of an action plan, the Bush administration "has proposed an increase in the budget of CMHS [Center for Mental Health Services] from $862 million in the current fiscal 2004 to $912 million in fiscal 2005." Michael Hogan, chairman of the Commission and director of Ohio Mental Health Department, is promoting screening and increased use of psychiatric drugs. He has complained that recent reports of the drugs’ hazards "are helping to fuel fears about widespread screening of kids."

Suicide prevention is the primary justification for screening. But an authoritative evaluation of the evidence by the US Preventive Services Task Force (PSTF) concluded that screening for suicide is without merit — as there is no evidence to support that it reduces the suicide risk. In addition, the PSTF warned of the potential for harm from screening.

The major beneficiary of government initiated screening for mental illness is the pharmaceutical industry, politicians whose campaigns the industry finances, and the mental health provider industry — including psychiatrists, psychologists, medical institutions, social workers, and their advocacy groups — all of whom have a vested interest in expanding their income-producing client base.

Outraged by the prospect of universal screening and the intrusion on fundamental liberty, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the Alliance for Human Research Protection, Ed Watch, the Health Action Center, and the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology, and others are urging people to contact their senators and members of Congress to ask that they oppose funding the New Freedom Commission screening initiative.

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