On the way: a mandatory ‘Prozac nation’

While required screenings sound good in theory, they are problematic in practice.

Thanks for calling your readers’ attention to the National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 7 (“Help is available,” letter, Sept. 10). Since 1991, mental health professionals have been encouraging people to confront and find help for depressive disorders through these free annual assessments.

What most Americans do not know is that such screenings will become mandatory, even for very young children, if legislation now before Congress passes. Through the New Freedom Initiative, President George W. Bush is pushing for a national program that will evaluate every citizen, beginning with school children from preschool age up, for possible mental illness.

In theory, it sounds like a good idea, but in practice, it is highly problematic. What criteria will be used? What treatments will be recommended?

The appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services (S2810) is now before the Senate, awaiting its day for debate and a vote. S2810 includes funding for mental health screening in the Bush administration’s initiative.

Legislators are concerned about what parental rights will accompany this program if it is enacted. Because children are now diagnosed with a range of “disruptive” and “conduct” disorders, medication for behaviors that are not necessarily mental illnesses is becoming the norm.

The government is influenced by dubious “evidence-based” outcomes for mental health. To compound the problem, the lack of a complete national registry for clinical drug trials suppresses much of the negative clinical data the pharmaceutical companies don’t want us to see. Lawsuits are popping up around the country.

Right now, the Food and Drug Administration is considering how strong its required warning about the link between certain antidepressants and adolescent suicide will be.

I’d recommend contacting your senators to voice your concerns about this legislation. A Trojan horse is at the gate. Similar legislation has already passed in Illinois, and other states are considering it. Parents who don’t want to see the state force unnecessary medications on their children need to speak up now before it is too late.

Debbie Thurman is the author of “Outsmarting Depression: Surviving the Crossfire of the Mental Health Wars.” Please send comments to [email protected]