Mental Health Screening
Q. What are
the costs and benefits of mental-health screening for public school students,
to indicate children who might be depressed, suicidal, on drugs or alcohol, or
prone to violence?
It comes down to the same old question: are individual parents
responsible for their child, or is the government? Those who believe it's the
former are behind pushes in places like Alaska. It recently passed a state law
that says that schools can't force parents to put their kids on psychotropic
(behavior-changing) drugs as a condition of enrollment. Another example of
parents' rights over the State's interest: Arizona, which recently required
schools to let parents view questions on a mental-health type survey before
deciding whether to grant permission for their child to take it.
On the other hand, those who believe the government needs to take a
stronger role in order to protect students and staff from shootings and other
dangers line up behind programs like TeenScreen, developed at Columbia
University, the leading mental-health screening program in the country. The
states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Iowa and New Mexico
have mandated mental-health screenings in schools as a preventive measure.
So what's the fuss? It's over control. And it's not likely
to be resolved any time soon.
If screening is put in place, we're likely to have more
horror stories like this one, outlined by a medical doctor. It's about a girl
in Indiana who went through one of the mental-health screenings and was told
she had "obsessive-compulsive disorder" because she likes to clean, and "social
anxiety disorder" because she doesn't like to party all the time:
Everyone agrees that it's a good idea in schools to screen
kids for eyesight and hearing problems in school, and later on, for scoliosis. Early
prevention helps hold potential learning problems at bay and keeps the bills
manageable as well, for both parents and the taxpayers.
Similarly, we don't want kids with communicable diseases to
come to school, and we want to know when there has been a head lice outbreak. Overall,
it's clear that physical health protections and programs within public schools
are important to parents and the public.
The mind is certainly part of the body. So the health of
the mind should probably get the same protections and programs, to maintain
health, right? Surely nobody wants to sit back and do nothing while the next
Columbine unfolds because kids have fallen mentally ill and people don't
No. But opponents of mental-health screening believe the
government is overstepping its bounds with the screening program, that it's not
likely to help the ones who really do need the help, and the chances are high
that touchy personal information will get into the wrong hands in the
record-keeping process associated with the mental-health screening.
Similarly, they point to concerns that psychiatric care is
dicey, the younger the patient gets. And, they say, there's too big a risk that
medications will be pushed on kids inappropriately and do harm.
They also contend that a given child's concerns that may be
brought out by the screening could probably be solved relatively quickly and economically
with better parenting skills, improved nutrition, talk therapy, or any number
of other interventions. But they see that frequently, young people are
erroneously labeled as having a mental health problem when they don't, and put
on medications when less-invasive solutions would've worked if tried.
Homework: For the pro's and cons, visit www.TeenScreen.org and a site opposing the screening, www.TeenScreenTruth.com