Sue Weibert of Teenscreen Truth reports on the controversial nature of mental health screening in the U.S.
Weibert states that 'Various government entities, private foundations, organizations, think tanks and universities, all flanked by cunning public relations firms, are hard at work trying to make mental health screening as common as a dental checkup.'
The New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (NFC) was established by George W Bush in 2002 with the aim of reviewing mental health care in the U.S. and subsequently went on to produce a report calling for the universal screening of American citizens (from pre-natal to the elderly) for mental illness. Weibert states that the NFC's report recommended the Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP) and Columbia University’s TeenScreen as “model programs” for this task.
The TeenScreen Program is described by Teenscreen Truth as aiming 'to establish screening programs throughout our nation’s communities so that all children can be screened and treated for mental illness'. This controversial programme has been criticised in a separate report in the British Medical Journal  who report that a lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. over the violation of privacy rights and parental rights by subjecting children to mental health screening examinations in schools without parental permission.
At a AstraZeneca sponsored conference, Teenscreen Truth state that the TeenScreen Program 'reported that 80% of the teens identified through the use of their screening tool “are not truly at risk.” This presentation also included the fact that 24% of the referred students were then prescribed medication.'
Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP)is described by Teenscreen Truth as 'a medication protocol for the treatment of mental illness'. Before a drug can be prescribed by a state physician for someone in the state system, it has to be on the TMAP list. They go on to describe how
- 'TMAP set uniform guidelines for treatment of certain psychiatric-deemed “disorders” using the “newer,” brand name psychiatric medications and culminating with Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) — better known as “shock treatment”— as the final solution when medications are judged as being ineffective. No other therapy or treatment of any kind is included in the algorithm (problem-solving procedure) of TMAP; it is strictly medication and ECT... When TMAP was developed, with help from the pharmaceutical industry, the most expensive, newer-generation antipsychotic drugs — called “atypicals” — were the ones to make the list. In TMAP, the older drugs and generic drugs, which are less expensive, have been completely omitted'.
Teenscreen Truth go on to explain how the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is also involved in the aim of universal screening. Whilst NAMI claims to be 'the voice for the mentally ill' and a 'grassroots organization', it receives extensive pharmaceutical funding and has been criticised as spreading 'fraudulent information about what “mental illness” actually is in order to claim more victims to treatment and psychotropic drug prescriptions. There are also strong allegations that NAMI is lobbying on behalf of pharmaceutical companies'.
Teenscreen Truth describe the following as key players in the mental health screening of the american public...
- Michael Hogan - described as a member of TeenScreen’s Advisory Council, a member of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), past president of both NASMHPD and the NASMHPD Research Institute (NRI) (and more recently on the NRI Board of Directors) and an Advisory Board member of Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc. Mental Health Issues Today (MHIT), a journal published by Parexel Medical Marketing, which receives funds from the drug companies to run "advisory panels" on their behalf. It should also be noted that the NASHPD is heavily supported through 'educational grants' by Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc. and Eli Lilly.
- Laurie Flynn - Director of Teenscreen since 2001. Teenscreen website reports that Flynn previously served 16 years as the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Teenscreen Truth go on to report that Hogan and Flynn were previously involved in the “Expert Consensus Guideline Series: Treatment of Schizophrenia 1999” in order too establish uniform medication guidelines for schizophrenia. This was an initiative 'supported exclusively by 6 pharmaceutical companies: Eli Lilly and Company, Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc., Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Pfizer, Inc. and Zeneca Pharmaceuticals' (now known as AstraZeneca).
- Rabin Strategic Partners was one of the PR firms hired by the Teenscreen Program. They created the publication Catch Them Before They Fall; How to Implement Mental Health Screening Programs for Youth as Recommended by the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health which was targeted at key health committees to introduce the notion that every child should be screened for mental illness and promote the Teenscreen Program as the way to go about it.
- Widmeyer Communications were also involved in the Teenscreen Program. They 'devised a comprehensive national public health campaign involving media relations, partnership development, research, public affairs and advertising' in order to get 'the word out to ensure that parents and other key players (educators, policymakers, the media, etc.) were aware of the Teen Screen program and the importance of mental health screening'. In order to do so they 'implemented an aggressive media relations effort' to publicize the initiative .
In a report in 2004 on 'Reaching Youth with Important Messages' Widmeyer Communications opening words are very clear about the benefits of targeting the youth market...
- 'Marketing to young people has always been a sensitive topic. But as an audience of 40 million with annual buying power of $364 billion, teens and "tweens" are important customers in the marketplace of products and ideas'.
This page provides a summary of some of the findings of Teenscreen Truth in regard to mental health screening in America. For more details see their website Teenscreen Truth.
The notion of 'universal' mental health screening and subsequent medication of the population sounds like something quite at home in George Orwell's 1984. 'Universal' screening also begs the question of who is included in the universal concept. Does this include those in government, CEO's and top executives in industry and those in the wider community that make up the power elites? Or is it focused on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum? How will the information be used and who will be using it? These seem pertinent questions to ask (and address) in the analysis of mental health screening and its issues.
- Teenscreen Truth The Genesis of President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health Accessed 9th January 2008
- British Medical Journal US teenager�s parents sue school over depression screening test Accessed 9th January 2008
- Columbia University Teenscreen Program Laurie Flynn Accessed 9th January 2008
- Columbia University Teenscreen Program Program Leadership Accessed 9th January 2008
- Widmeyer Communications Columbia University Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Accessed 9th January 2008
- Widmeyer Communications Research and Partnerships are Critical Elements To Successful Social Marketing to Young People Accessed 9th January 2008