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Government Mental Health Screening Comments from Connecticut

(NEW) Missing: Required Information from the TEENSCREEN Proposal

Children’s Social, Emotional & Behavioral Health Plan

A Response To:  Indiana Commission on Mental Health

Indiana P-16 Plan

Smaller Learning Centers


Government Mental Health Screening Comments from Connecticut:

National Home Education Legal Defense
P.O. Box 704
Southbury , CT 06488

Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, Executive Director
(860) 354-3590    Fax: (860) 354-9360


National Home Education Legal Defense, or NHELD as it is commonly known, is an organization dedicated to upholding the rights of parents concerning the education of their children. We have had the opportunity to work with parents, local Boards of Education, State Departments of Education, and legislators on a variety of issues, including special education within the public school system and the provision of medication to children within the public school system.

It has come to our attention that the State of Indiana is considering integrating Mental Health Screening programs into your school systems. We applaud you for checking into the facts on this controversial issue and hope that we can offer some things for you to contemplate regarding your liability and responsibilities into this debate. We are respectfully requesting you to reject the implementation of such a program for the reasons outlined in this letter. While we are sure that you are honestly endeavoring to assist the children in your state, we believe that implementation of this program will not produce the results that you seek. It may in fact do more harm than good.

Mental health screening programs have not been proven to prevent suicide, and there are strong indications that these programs are funded by the pharmaceutical industry.  NHELD believes that screening and education programs from these types of organizations have NO place in the public school system, because they are designed to create and deliver consumers to the pharmaceutical and psychiatric industry.   

There have been thousands of articles written nationally about the problems that programs such as TeenScreen, Signs of Suicide, etc. have caused.  It may very well create a legal liability to your school districts. Screening programs have spawned lawsuits from parents whose children were screened without their permission, as well as children who were mis-diagnosed with "mental illness".  As a result of incorrect screening results, some of these children have been given powerful psychotropic medications.  Some children have tried and succeeded in committing suicide because they were on these potent medications. Some have died from the side effects of these medications. This is absolutely tragic and needless. We are already seeing the studies and black box warnings regarding these drugs, some of which are being used after kids are "screened and identified" as having "mental health problems" or show signs of "suicide ideation".  

We believe that the mental health of any child is the responsibility of that child’s parent. It is not the responsibility of the administrators of the school the child attends, nor is it the responsibility of the local Board of Education or the State. In fact, legally speaking, the United States Supreme Court has delineated the responsibility of the school district when it comes to the health of the child, and the Court has stated that it is the constitutional right of the parent, not school officials, to make decisions concerning the health of the child.

"[o]ur constitutional system long ago rejected any notion that a child is "the mere creature of the State"… Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925). See also Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 213 (1972); Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 400 (1923)" Parham v. J.R. , 442 U.S. 584;602-606, 99 S. Ct. 2493; 61 L. Ed. 2d 101; 1979 U.S. LEXIS 130 (1979).

Because parents have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the care, custody and management of their children against the state’s unwarranted "usurpation, disregard, or disrespect", the Supreme Court has held that parents retain a substantial, if not the dominant, role in decisions affecting the child, including decisions affecting medical treatment. Tennenbaum v. Williams, 193 F. 3d 581, 594 (1999), Cf. Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584, 99 S. Ct. 2493, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101; 1979 U.S. LEXIS 130 (1979); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 39, 67 L. Ed. 1042, 43 S. Ct. 625 (1923).

The Supreme Court explained,
"Simply because the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child, or because it involves risks, does not automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state. The same characterizations can be made for a tonsillectomy, appendectomy, or other medical procedure…Parents can and must make those judgments…Neither state officials nor federal courts are equipped to review such parental decisions." Parham v. J.R. , 442 U.S. 584;602-606, 99 S. Ct. 2493; 61 L. Ed. 2d 101; 1979 U.S. LEXIS 130 (1979).

The Court has held that the authority of school officials is not the same as that of the parent. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 336-337, 83 L. Ed. 2d 720, 105 S. Ct. 733 (1985). Parents have the constitutional right and authority to make decisions regarding matters of a child’s health, including a child’s mental health. It is clear that public school administrators can act in place of a parent only in certain limited circumstances.

"Public school officials have the power to act in loco parentis only with regard to educational matters affecting the public school." Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 656, 115 S. Ct. 2386, 132 L. Ed. 2d 564; 1995 U.S. LEXIS 4275(1995). 

It seems to us that implementation of any aspect of mental health screening programs,  oversteps the bounds of parental authority. We would hope that before you decide to implement any suicide prevention program and impart taxpayer funds toward it, that you seriously consider the constitutional implications of your actions. It must be completely spelled out in your policy that parents should give full and active consent to any screening or education program and that an active opt out must be an available option. If screening is to occur, then it needs to be spelled out completely in your policy.  This policy must also state that any material handed out to families must have complete disclosure about pharmaceutical industry money being used to fund any and all screening programs. There are documented ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

You also need to know, that The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM),the American Psychiatric Association's diagnosis manual has recently come under strict scrutiny and criticism.  We urge you to read articles which were recently printed in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, USA Today and many other publications, which demonstrate the pharmaceutical industry's ties and influence on this manual which in turn helps to bring customers to the pharmacy for their drugs. One such article can be found at  http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2006-04-19-manuals-drugmakers_x.htm  (also printed below)

There are a variety of other reasons why we urge you to reject implementation of these programs, not the least of which is the considerable discrepancy within the mental health professions as to the precise definition of "mental illness", appropriate diagnostic means to determine whether a person suffers from such "mental illness", and appropriate and effective means to treat such "mental illness".  Assuming for the sake of argument that a "screening" program or disseminated information about "mental illness" helps to identify students who suffer "mental illness" or "suicidal tendencies", what would the school officials recommend? Would the school officials only make "recommendations" or would those "recommendations" become "requirements"? If parents then reject the "recommendations" or "requirements", what penalties would the parents and their children incur? What if a child is incorrectly funneled into the pipeline of receiving treatment and drugs for an illness that they do not have?  Will the school districts, the state, or even school board members, be held responsible for the resulting destruction of this child's life?

What you implement now will have far greater implications in the future. Please reconsider and reject this legislation, and any considered partnership with mental health screening programs and legislation regarding implementation. Please work instead to strengthen the rights of parents to make decisions regarding education, screening or treatment of their children, whether it be for physical or mental health, and please make sure that any information given to parents about mental illness includes non-drug treatment as well as full disclosure of pharmaceutical industry involvement in the materials and programs being disseminated.

Yours truly,
Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson - Executive Director, NHELD 
Judy Aron - Research Director, NHELD


Study: Medical manual's authors often tied to drugmakers

Posted 4/19/2006 10:39 PM ET



By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
A majority of the medical experts who created the "bible" for diagnosing mental illness have undisclosed financial links to drugmakers, says a study out Thursday.
And some panels overseeing disorders that require treatment with prescription drugs, such as schizophrenia and "mood disorders," were 100% filled with experts financially tied to the pharmaceutical industry, says the study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) is the American Psychiatric Association's diagnosis manual. It is also used as the basis for insurance payments for psychiatric treatments, including drugs.
"No blood tests exist for the disorders in the DSM. It relies on judgments from practitioners who rely on the manual," says lead study author Lisa Cosgrove of the University of Massachusetts Boston.
The researchers looked for research funds, consultancies, patents and other gifts or grants received by members of the 18 separate DSM preparation panels from 1989 to 2004, both before and after their terms.
They found that among the 170 medical experts who created the two most recent editions of the manual, 56% had one or more financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. In addition to the schizophrenia and mood disorder panels' links, more than 80% of panel members for "anxiety disorders," "eating disorders," "medication-induced movement disorders" and "premenstrual dysphonic disorder" had financial ties.
"Psychiatrists rely on the APA (American Psychiatric Association) to police its activities, and we take that responsibility very seriously," association psychiatrist Darrel Regier says. The next edition, scheduled for release in 2011, will disclose all industry financial ties to panel members, he says, either in the manual or on a website.
"I don't think that's good enough. People don't poke around in the latest issue looking for conflict-of-interest statements," says physician Peter Lurie of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Ideally, the DSM would be created by experts without any financial links to drugmakers, he says.
The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association responded, in a statement by spokesman Ken Johnson, that the health care professionals on these panels "have impeccable integrity and base their decisions on independent judgments and research."
This month, the journal PLOS Medicine accused the drug industry of "disease-mongering," inventing diseases from everyday aggravations, such "restless legs syndrome," and widening definitions to sweep up more patients.
Psychologist David Healy of the United Kingdom's Cardiff University notes that recent revisions to the DSM eliminated a subtype of schizophrenia that responded poorly to drugs. And "melancholia" was eliminated in favor of major depressive disorder, Healy says. "The upshot is that some patients are going to lose out," he says.
Regier disputes the claims.