NAMI is extremely pleased that Goal 4 of President Bush’s New Freedom Commission report (NFC) on mental health calls for mental health screening. Here is the goal and recommendations:
Early Mental Health Screening, Assessment, and
4.2 Improve and expand school mental health programs.
4.3 Screening for co-occurring mental and substance use disorders and link with integrated treatment strategies.
4.4 Screen for mental disorders in primary health care, across the life span, and connect to treatment and supports.
The NFC report identified the Columbia University TeenScreen Program as a model program. The TeenScreen program is designed to identify youth that may be at risk for suicide or suffering from an untreated mental illness and links those youth with a mental health professional for an appropriate evaluation.
The release of the NFC report resulted in some groups attacking Goal 4 of the report and the TeenScreen program. The groups that have organized these attacks have attacked psychiatry for years. They are using gross distortions about the TeenScreen program and the NFC report to build support in opposition to screening.
To date, our nation has failed to identify the overwhelming majority of children and adolescents living with mental illnesses.
These groups claim that the federal government is calling for mandatory, universal mental health screening without parental consent of all of our nation’s children. These groups claim that screening leads to labeling children and forcing them onto medications. They also claim a conspiracy between the Bush administration, organized psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry to get as many children as possible onto psychotropic medications. They claim that the TeenScreen program does not require parental consent, leads to children being inappropriately diagnosed and results in children improperly being placed on psychotropic medications. These campaigns of misinformation are designed to stir up fear, confusion and outrage. They certainly drive up stigma.
No one is calling for mandatory mental health screening without parental consent. Not the TeenScreen program, not President Bush, not the NFC report, not mental health advocates – no one. And, a simple reading of the NFC report makes that fact clear. In fact, the report calls for parental involvement and collaboration in screening and early identification. Here are several quotes from Goal 4 of the report:
“Clearly, school mental health programs must provide any screening or treatment services with full attention to the confidentiality and privacy of children and families.” (pg. 62)
“The Commission recommends that Federal, State, and local child-serving agencies fully recognize and address the mental health needs of youth in the education system. They can work collaboratively with families to develop, evaluate, and disseminate effective approaches for providing mental health services and supports to youth in schools along a critical continuum of care. This continuum includes education and training, prevention, early identification, early intervention, and treatment. “ (pg. 62)
Fulfilling the promise of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 in helping all children to achieve their full potential by … “working with parents, local providers, and local agencies to support screening, assessment, and early intervention …” (pg. 62)
Contrary to the claims of those attacking the TeenScreen program, the TeenScreen program requires parental consent and teen assent to participate before any screening can be done. It does not provide a diagnosis nor does the screening result in a child receiving psychotropic medication. Instead, it identifies teens that may be at risk and works with the family to link them with a mental health professional for an evaluation.