National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Mental Health Screening Will Save Lives

January 19, 2005

Our nation simply cannot afford to continue to fail our youth with mental disorders who need treatment. The tragic consequences of our failure to identify youth through early assessment and to intervene with appropriate mental health treatment and services are well documented. The facts speak for themselves:

  • About 3,000 youth die every year from suicide (CDC);
  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds and the 4th leading cause of death in children as young as 10 years old (CDC);
  • 90% of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder (Surgeon General, 1999);
  • Approximately 10% of children and adolescents live with a mental illness and yet, only about 20% of them are identified and in treatment (Surgeon General, 1999);
  • Youth with mental illnesses have the highest school dropout and failure rates of any disability group (U.S. Dept. of Education);
  • An alarming 65% of boys and 75% of girls locked in our nation’s jails and detention centers have one or more psychiatric disorders (Teplin, L, Archives of General Psychiatry, 2002).

Screening for the health and well being of children is a well-established practice in the United States. We screen for vision, lead poisoning, hearing, scoliosis, tuberculosis, appropriate developmental progress and more. Mental health screening is essential to address the gross under-identification of youth with mental illnesses and the tragic consequences that often follow. Research shows that early identification and intervention leads to improved outcomes and may lessen long-term disability. Many NAMI families also recount that it promises to avoid years of unnecessary suffering and lost opportunities.

NAMI calls on federal, state and local leaders to immediately take affirmative steps to implement mental health screening for children and adolescents. This position is consistent with the recommendations included in President Bush’s New Freedom Commission report on mental health that calls for mental health screening in child-serving settings.

Campaigns of misinformation, stigma and fear must not stand in the way of progress on this vital public health issue. Screening must be done with proper protections and guidelines in place. The most important of which are that screening is voluntary and only done with parental consent. To learn more about our position on mental health screening and the protection and guidelines that families are calling for, please review our recently adopted position statement on mental health screening.

Representative Ron Paul of Texas has introduced legislation, the Parental Consent Act of 2005 (H.R. 181) that would prohibit the use of federal funds for mental health screening. NAMI strongly opposes this legislation and urges Congressional members not to support the bill and any similar measures. The bill would stifle efforts to support state and local programs designed to identify youth struggling with mental illnesses and initiatives designed to help reduce the existing youth suicide crisis in this country.

Screening cannot be viewed in isolation. NAMI calls on national leaders to build a comprehensive mental health system of care for the millions of children who require mental health treatment and services. These children and families deserve nothing less.

Action Required:

Advocates are strongly encouraged to contact their members of Congress to oppose H.R. 181 and other anti-screening legislation. Advocates are also encouraged to share their personal family stories with Congressional members about how early detection of a child’s mental illness made a dramatic difference in their child’s life or how the failure to identify a child’s mental disorder early resulted in unnecessary suffering.

Congressional members are being regularly contacted by anti-psychiatry groups who make false claims and distortions about screening, including the claim that the President’s New Freedom Commission calls for mandatory screening without parental consent. It is time to set the record straight and to report on the experiences of countless families from across the country. You may also send a letter to your federal and state legislators and leaders on mental health screening.  Enter your zip code below to access a sample letter on this issue and a list of your representatives to contact now.  If you do not see the box for entering your zip code, click here .

All House and Senate offices can be reached through the Capital switchboard at 202-224-3121 (please note that this is not a toll-free call). Senators and House members can also be reached at their local offices that are listed in the Blue Pages of your local phone directory.

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