Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Here's to your mental health, Minnesota!

This just in from Julie Quist of EdWatch:

Huge Mental Health Victory for MN Families: MN parents & children protected from mental health coercion & universal screening!

In two enormous setbacks for the mental health establishment (the pharmaceutical industry, professional organizations, and mental health front groups), universal mental health screening “at least once by age 3” was defeated as part of mandatory kindergarten screening in the 2005 Minnesota legislative session. In addition, thanks to the incredible work of House Republican negotiators and the informed, persistent work of EdWatch, Minnesota becomes the first state in the nation to prohibit schools from coercing parents to either medicate their children with psychotropic drugs OR submit them to mental health screening.

[Note: The EdWatch update of July 5th that reprinted the article New law can't force meds on kids referenced changes to a federal law (IDEA) that applies only to special ed students.]

No Mental Health Screening for Toddlers : The Minnesota Senate Democrats, acknowledging and supporting the New Freedom Commission’s recommendation for universal mental screening, did their best to require mental health screening for children as young as three years for kindergarten entrance. The legislation wanted to screen children’s “socioemotional development” to the long list of mandated screening items, not just by kindergarten entrance at age 5, but moving the age down to “at least once by age three,” which could conceivably have meant at birth.

The definition of “socioemotional development” was also incredibly vague. It said:"For purposes of this section, socioemotional screening means assessing a child's ability, in the context of family, community, and cultural expectations, to (1) experience, control, and express emotions; (2) form close and secure interpersonal relationships; and (3) explore and experience surroundings and learn from them."

It is impossible to accurately or fairly assess any of these criteria, especially in very young children. The Surgeon General Report on Mental Health [PDF] (1999. p. 1-5) confirms this when it says, “In other words, what it means to be mentally healthy is subject to many different interpretations that are rooted in value judgments that may vary across cultures.”

If this legislation had passed, it would have opened the door to incredible government intrusion into the lives of families by producing massive data collection of very personal and private information. It would have also screened these young children and their families based on political and religious values, attitudes and beliefs in the “context of family, community, and cultural expectations.”

Minnesota would have followed in the steps of Illinois. As of June 30th, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has on his desk the state’s final plan to “increase early intervention and mental health treatment services and supports for children: Ages 0-5 years…” Thanks to the efforts in Minnesota of dedicated legislators, and thanks to the phone calls, visits and emails of many, many constituents, Minnesota did not descend down that path.Groundbreaking Protection of Parents and Children Against Coercion

In 2001, Minnesota was the second state in the nation to pass a prohibition against school-led coercion of parents to drug their children with sympathomimetics, meaning stimulant medication like Ritalin and Adderall. That legislation stated that a parent could not be charged with educational neglect for refusing these drugs. It was authored by Representatives Barb Sykora and Sondra Erickson, among others, in the House, and by Senators Tom Neuville and Michele Bachmann, among others, in the Senate.

Since passage of that prohibition in 2001, continued incidents of coercion around the nation using other types of charges and other types of drugs, such as antidepressants, have come to light. The FDA has since then issued warnings on the ineffectiveness and dangers of psychotropic medications. In addition, mental health screening rapidly rose to prominence following the release of the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health [PDF], which recommends universal screening “across the life span.” All of these developments clearly demonstrated that this very good and important 2001 legislation needed expansion.

Rep. Jim Abler introduced an amendment to this year’s education bill with encouragement from EdWatch. He also had strong support from other members in during both the committee hearing and conference committee negotiations. That amendment stated:"Consistent with section 125A.091, subdivision 5, a readmission plan must not obligate a parent or guardian to provide psychotropic drugs to their student as a condition of readmission. School officials must not use the refusal of a parent or guardian to consent to the administration of psychotropic drugs to their student or to consent to a psychiatric evaluation, screening or examination of the student as a ground, by itself, to prohibit the student from attending class or participating in a school-related activity, or as a basis of a charge of child abuse, child neglect or medical or educational neglect."

Changing to the word “psychotropic” covers all psychiatric medications, not just stimulant drugs. This and a complete prohibition of coercion of parents with charges of abuse or neglect or exclusion from school or activity makes the Minnesota law the strongest and best mental health anti-coercion law enacted in the entire nation. To our knowledge, Minnesota is also the only state in the nation that protects children and parents from mental health screening coercion. Sadly, Republican governors Jon Huntsman and Jeb Bush vetoed excellent bills with similar language that passed the Utah and Florida state legislatures, respectively. These governors gave away family rights to privacy and freedom of thought and gave in to the powerful pharmaceutical lobby and the rest of the mental health establishment.
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Congratulations to Julie, EdWatch and families everywhere.

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