by Karen R. Effrem, MD
After yet another tragic school shooting — this time in Santa Fe, Texas, resulting in the deaths of eight students and two teachers — Texas has followed the example of Florida and proposed a plan that vastly expands mental health screening and diagnosis in the state’s schools.
The first element of the plan is to “provide mental health evaluations that identify students at risk of harming others and provide them with the help they need.” This is the Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage & Referral (TWITR) Project, one of the programs that I wrote about several weeks ago. This program sends troubled students, referred by teachers, for screening by licensed professional counselors and, if necessary, for two telemedicine sessions with psychiatrists. According to the program’s data sheet, nearly 42,000 students were “impacted” by the program, with 1 percent (about 400) referred for triage and 215 receiving the counseling sessions.
However, while it may be a step forward that those truly in need of counseling are receiving it, there are several issues not mentioned in the information given. One unmentioned issue is the false positive rate of the screening. Although it is likely to be better than a standard written or online screen, because the screening is done by a licensed mental health professional, as previously discussed, the psychiatric profession readily admits that diagnosis is not standardized but is rather a consensus judgment, and diagnosing children and adolescents is especially difficult due to rapid developmental changes. A 2016 international psychiatric conference also highlighted the crisis of consensus for that specialty.
Another issue not discussed is the side effects of treatment for those medicated. As admitted by the FDA and thoroughly documented by studies, numerous expert authors (here and here for example), and media reports, psychiatric drugs (especially the antidepressant class) are known to cause suicidal thoughts and actions, mania, and violent reactions.
In addition, as well documented by whistleblower Allen Jones, Texas has a rather dark history of pharmaceutical industry involvement in promoting expensive, dangerous, and ineffective antipsychotic drugs for use in government programs. These drugs could not be promoted by successful clinical trials showing superiority to the older agents, because there were not any. But they were promoted by “expert consensus” — biased surveys of physicians heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry.
Consent is also an issue. Although the plan document states, “All services provided by TWITR are done with parental consent [Emphasis in original],” what happens if a parent disagrees with the diagnosis or plan? Several years ago, Texas also witnessed a particularly ugly incident of psychiatric kidnapping and forced drugging of Aliah Gleason, a 17-year-old student, after a mental health screening:
The Gleasons would not be allowed to see or even speak to their daughter for the next five months, and Aliah would spend a total of nine months in a state psychiatric hospital and residential treatment facilities. While in the hospital, she was placed in restraints more than 26 times and medicated – against her will and without her parents’ consent – with at least 12 different psychiatric drugs, many of them simultaneously.
This discussion also does not even begin to get into other concerning recommendations of the governor’s task force regarding mental health. One is, like Florida, to train teachers and other non-mental health experts in recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and refer students for screening and treatment under a program called Mental Health First Aid. As discussed above, given that even well-trained experts admit that their diagnostic criteria are based on research that is “unreliable and corrupted by the pharmaceutical industry” and that these highly trained physicians cannot accurately diagnose who will become violent, it seems dangerous to expand psychiatric diagnosis to lay people when the likely result will be more inaccurate screening and drugging of children.
The other most concerning aspect of the plan is its wholesale, “Big Brother” style monitoring of student social media accounts. There is grave concern about politically weaponizing this kind of monitoring, such as is already common on Facebook and Twitter. There is also a question of whether such monitoring will even serve its intended purpose, given that specific credible threats against students from You Tube, etc. were brought forward to Broward County, Fla., authorities before the Parkland shooting and were nevertheless ignored.
Two aspects of the plan are definitely worth supporting, however. Increasing the availability of counselors to talk to troubled students without involving medications can be of help, assuming students’ psychological data is protected better than it is currently. Also, the discussion of expelling students that openly threaten students and staff is only common sense. Sadly, the plan did not mention working to rescind the Obama-era school discipline “guidance.”
But in the long term, the vast majority of recommendations of this report, whether helpful or harmful, are short-term, bandage-type fixes for very serious, long-term educational and social issues. Ultimately, we must return to a culture that understands and teaches our heritage of freedom, stops subsidizing single-parent households, maintains real school discipline, puts parents and duly elected school boards instead of the federal government in charge of education, and stops psychologizing education by returning to genuine academics. If we do not, we will continue to lament the loss of innocent life as well as the freedoms and futures of our children.