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NAMI Responds to Attacks on Mental Health Screening

and President Bush’s New Freedom Commission Report

NAMI is extremely pleased that Goal 4 of President Bush’s New Freedom Commission report (NFC) on mental health calls for mental health screening.  Here is the goal and recommendations:

Goal 4

Early Mental Health Screening, Assessment, and
Referral to Services Are Common Practice.



Promote the mental health of young children.

4.2     Improve and expand school mental health programs.

4.3     Screening for co-occurring mental and substance use disorders and link with integrated treatment strategies.

4.4     Screen for mental disorders in primary health care, across the life span, and connect to treatment and supports.


The NFC report identified the Columbia University TeenScreen Program as a model program.  The TeenScreen program is designed to identify youth that may be at risk for suicide or suffering from an untreated mental illness and links those youth with a mental health professional for an appropriate evaluation. 

The release of the NFC report resulted in some groups attacking Goal 4 of the report and the TeenScreen program.  The groups that have organized these attacks have attacked psychiatry for years.  They are using gross distortions about the TeenScreen program and the NFC report to build support in opposition to screening.

Why is mental health screening so important?

To date, our nation has failed to identify the overwhelming majority of children and adolescents living with mental illnesses. 

  • 4,000,000 children and adolescents in this country suffer from a serious mental illness that significantly impairs their functioning at home, school, and with peers. 
  • 21% of our nation’s children have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder that causes at least minimal impairment in their lives.
  • Alarmingly, in any given year, only 20% of children and adolescents with mental illnesses are identified and receive services, leaving the other 80% behind.
  • Research shows that early identification and intervention minimizes the long-term disability of mental illnesses.

What are the most serious consequences of untreated mental illnesses in children and adolescents?

  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in youth aged 15 to 24.More teens and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.
  • Research shows that over 90% of youth who commit suicide have a mental illness.
  • School failure – approximately 50% of students with a mental illness age 14 and older drop out of high school, the highest drop out rate of any disability group.
  • Locking youth up – an alarming 65% of boys and 75% of girls in juvenile detention have at least one psychiatric disorder.

What are the anti-screening and anti-psychiatry groups saying about TeenScreen and the NFC report?

These groups claim that the federal government is calling for mandatory, universal mental health screening without parental consent of all of our nation’s children.    These groups claim that screening leads to labeling children and forcing them onto medications.  They also claim a conspiracy between the Bush administration, organized psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry to get as many children as possible onto psychotropic medications.   They claim that the TeenScreen program does not require parental consent, leads to children being inappropriately diagnosed and results in children improperly being placed on psychotropic medications.  These campaigns of misinformation are designed to stir up fear, confusion and outrage.  They certainly drive up stigma. 

What is the truth about the TeenScreen program and Goal 4 of the NFC report?

No one is calling for mandatory mental health screening without parental consent.  Not the TeenScreen program, not President Bush, not the NFC report, not mental health advocates – no one.  And, a simple reading of the NFC report makes that fact clear.  In fact, the report calls for parental involvement and collaboration in screening and early identification.  Here are several quotes from Goal 4 of the report:

“Clearly, school mental health programs must provide any screening or treatment services with full attention to the confidentiality and privacy of children and families.”  (pg. 62)

“The Commission recommends that Federal, State, and local child-serving agencies fully recognize and address the mental health needs of youth in the education system.  They can work collaboratively with families to develop, evaluate, and disseminate effective approaches for providing mental health services and supports to youth in schools along a critical continuum of care.  This continuum includes education and training, prevention, early identification, early intervention, and treatment. “  (pg. 62)

Fulfilling the promise of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 in helping all children to achieve their full potential by … “working with parents, local providers, and local agencies to support screening, assessment, and early intervention …” (pg. 62)

Contrary to the claims of those attacking the TeenScreen program, the TeenScreen program requires parental consent and teen assent to participate before any screening can be done.  It does not provide a diagnosis nor does the screening result in a child receiving psychotropic medication.  Instead, it identifies teens that may be at risk and works with the family to link them with a mental health professional for an evaluation.

What can NAMI leaders and families do to set the record straight on mental health screening?

  • Contact state and federal lawmakers to help educate them about the public health crisis in unidentified mental illnesses in children and the benefits of early identification and mental health screening.  Let them know that anti-psychiatry groups are behind organizing these campaigns of misinformation;
  • Set the record straight whenever you learn of misinformation related to mental health screening through letters to the editor, meetings with state leaders and legislators, through work with state-based coalitions and through other appropriate vehicles; and
  • Continue to notify NAMI national about these anti-screening attacks in your state and community so that we can continue to support your advocacy work (email Dana Crudo at


June 2006


Related Files

NAMI's Response to Attacks on Mental Health Screening (Word Document)