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President Bush Proposes Screening the
U.S. Population for Mental Illness

September 13, 2004

On June 19, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported that President Bush is planning to propose screening the whole U.S. population for mental illness. While the primary goal of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health is to integrate mentally ill patients fully into the community, it goes much further by recommending comprehensive mental-health screening for "consumers of all ages," including preschool children.

Commission Establishes National Goals and Recommendations

In its final report, "Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America," the Commission sets out several nationwide initiatives, including utilizing electronic medical records for mental health screening. The report includes the following national goals and recommendations:

Goal #4 - Early mental health screening, assessment, and referral to services are [to become] common practice.

The report states, "In a transformed mental health system, the early detection of mental health problems in children and adults—through routine and comprehensive testing and screening—will be an expected and typical occurrence....Quality screening and early intervention will occur in...readily accessible, low-stigma settings, such as primary health care facilities and schools....Both children and adults will be screened for mental illnesses during their routine physical exams. For consumers of all ages, early detection, assessment, and links with treatment and supports will help prevent mental health problems from worsening....To aid in transforming the mental health system, the Commission makes four recommendations:

  • Promote the mental health of young children.
  • Improve and expand school mental health programs.
  • Screen for co-occurring mental and substance use disorders and link with integrated treatment strategies.
  • Screen for mental disorders in primary health care, across the lifespan, and connect to treatment and supports."

Push for Electronic Mental-Health Records

Another goal and recommendation is to establish electronic medical records for mental-health purposes, as indicated by the Commission's sixth goal:

Goal #6 - Technology [will be] used to access mental health care and information.

The Committee's recommendations for this goal include:

  • "Use health technology and telehealth to improve access and coordination of mental health care, especially for Americans in remote areas or in underserved populations.
  • Develop and implement integrated electronic health record and personal health information systems."

President Bush has already instructed more than 25 federal agencies to develop an implementation plan based on the Commission's recommendations, the BMJ reports.

No Child Left Unmedicated?

In an article responding to the national mental-health initiative, the July 12 issue of the "pro-capitalist" New American notes, "In totalitarian societies such as Soviet Russia and Communist Cuba, the state pathologizes dissent as a mental disorder. Mr. Bush's proposal, in principle, would permit the same horrific abuses by putting Washington in charge of screening all school children—and, eventually, all other Americans."

The "anti-capitalist" New Standard reported on June 27 that "The American Psychiatric Association, which itself receives some funding from drug companies, has hailed the Commission's conclusions as a sound preventative approach to dealing with mental illness." The article continues, "Critics of the plan, however, point to strong connections between the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health and the pharmaceutical industry, and they contend that the plan will be a financial boon to drug companies while compromising the mental health of the nation's children."

Illinois Has Already Passed a Mental-Health Screening Law

According to a July 19 Illinois Leader article, Illinois has already passed a $10 million mental-health screening plan, the "Children's Mental Health Act of 2003." The article notes, "The mental health program will develop a mental health system for 'all children ages 0-18 years' [and] provide for screening to 'ensure appropriate and culturally relevant assessment of young children's social and emotional development with the use of standardized tools.' Also, all pregnant women will be screened for depression and thereafter following her baby's birth, up to one year. Follow-up treatment services will also be provided." The article points out that the bill had support from both major political parties. But when some parents found out about it, they raised alarm and are now asking other parents and concerned citizens to voice their opinions at public forums throughout the state.

Who's Screening the Screeners?

An important issue worth considering regarding national mental-health screening is who will monitor and evaluate the "experts"? If history is any indication, much of so-called mental illness is subjective and differs greatly across cultural, religious, and political lines. For example, in 1967 homosexuals were considered to be "afflicted with [a] psychopathic personality" and were prevented from immigrating to the United States (see the U.S. Supreme Court case Boutilier v. Immigration Service).

What Can You Do?

Large special-interest groups—many of them well-meaning—are pushing for state-based and national screening for a variety of illnesses, not just mental illnesses. If you are concerned about your and your families' freedom from compulsory screening, diagnoses, and treatment, you should contact your state and federal policymakers and voice your own opinion on the matter.

The president's report can be accessed online at www.mentalhealthcommission.gov/reports/FinalReport/FullReport.htm.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2004 issue of Health Freedom Watch.