- TUCZON, AZ (UPI) --
Congress and President Bush apparently think that a lot of children have
a "mental health" problem. Or that enough of them do to justify
taking millions of dollars from taxpayers to fund a universal "mental
health screening" for children, and eventually for everyone.
- Personally, I think -- from the perspective of a person
who never had any -- that almost all children act crazy. Those who don't
are, by definition, abnormal, because they don't act like the others.
- The main problem with about half of them is that they
are boys. Such children are obviously made of snips and snails and puppy
dog tails. On the farm there is a solution for that: a procedure for turning
boy lambs into non-ram lambs. After a quick little operation, they act
like peaceful little lambs instead of aggressive, disruptive rams.
- We don't do surgery like that on little boys, of course,
but we do have our methods: such as behavioral therapy and chemicals.
- There are those who argue with some passion that society
has to do something. Bad, disruptive, antisocial or depressed little kids
make lots of trouble for parents and schoolteachers. Worse, they can grow
up into dysfunctional, unhappy or troublemaking adults. That snotty little
boy might become a dissenting, nonconformist or even a rebellious man,
who could throw a monkey wrench into our smoothly functioning society.
We have to catch them early -- for their own good.
- Teams of experts are awaiting the infusion of cash. They'll
be ensconced in your child's school before you even know it. A bonus is
that your little darlings will probably give them quite a bit of information
about you also, and then you too can receive therapy you didn't know you
- Do you sometimes raise your voice? Ever spank them? Hug
them inappropriately? Have politically incorrect attitudes? Use forbidden
words? Own a gun? Smoke cigarettes, especially indoors? Read extremist
literature? Refuse to recycle? Prepare for a knock on the door.
- There are many tools at the disposal of the mental health
squad. Counseling sessions. Drugs (Ritalin, antidepressants, tranquilizers,
maybe some new ones that need to be tested on some experimental subjects
of your child's age). Group therapy. Removing the child from the home.
(This may be a "last resort," but often the mere threat can accomplish
- If an interview with a child raises concerns, the next
step might be a home visit. This could discover poor parenting skills,
inadequate housekeeping, harmful literature, or a baby who is crying or
has a bruise (signs of abuse?).
- It is true that some interventions have potential side
effects, say drug dependence or suicide, but to assure the health of the
population some shared sacrifice and risk is needed. We will have excellent
means of tracking outcomes to improve future therapies. The mental health
workers' impressions will all be recorded in the school records. An added
benefit could accrue to would-be employers or college recruiters.
- Some cautions are in order. Democrats might think that
potential future Republicans are crazy. Republicans might think the opposite.
Should an extremist Christian be one of the screeners, he might think that
nonbelievers are possessed by the devil. And an extremist secular humanist
(if such exist) might think that an overly religious child is at risk for
mental illness if not already impaired.
- In fact, parents ought to be asking some very serious
questions before the government experts interview the first child:
- What are the credentials of the screeners? Most importantly,
how many children have they raised to adulthood, and with what outcome?
- What are the criteria for possible abnormality? What
is the scientific validation? How often do different observers agree? Have
any long-term studies shown a solid correlation with adult performance
in life? Do today's oddball children fail, or might they turn into our
- Will you be allowed to get a second opinion? Can you
see the record and enter corrections if indicated? Will the record at any
point be destroyed, or will the stigma of a diagnosis such as "personality
disorder" follow the child throughout life?
- What will happen if your child fails the screen? What
sort of treatment will be given? Who will supervise it? What if you don't
approve of it?
- What's the very worst thing that the program will have
the power to do to you or your child, say if your worst enemy was to gain
control of it?
- Who might profit from the program (perhaps discoverable
by asking who lobbied for it)? Do drug companies expect to have a large
number of new consumers of their psychoactive drugs?
- What are the results of studies of long-term use of drugs
like Ritalin, which has effects on the brain similar to those of cocaine?
Have there even been any such studies?
- Can you refuse to participate in the program? If you
do refuse, what are the repercussions?
- What is the evidence that the program, at best, will
be anything other than a waste of millions of dollars? Miraculously, throughout
human history most of those crazy children have become stable, productive
adults without federally mandated psychiatric treatment. Still more amazingly,
their parents have managed also.
- Psychiatry in the hands of government, instead of independent
physicians who are working for patients, reeks of Orwell's "1984"
or the Soviet era. The very need to ask the questions should tell us the
right answer for this program: It's crazy.
- - Dr. Jane M. Orient is an internist practicing in Tucson,
Ariz., and executive director of the Association of American Physicians
- Copyright 2004 United Press International