Child Mental Health Act the wrong solution to violence

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After a tragedy such as the Columbine High School shootings a "do something, even if it is wrong" mentality can develop. Colorado Senate Bill-45 "The Child Mental Health Act" serves as a case in point.

SB-45 rests on the false premise that the "safety" of Colorado residents is dependent on linking each school to a mental health clinic and training teachers to refer children for "treatment." It, and a version of the same bill that failed last year, implies that Columbine would not have happened had mental health treatment been available.

Anyone who followed the media knows this is a lie. Eric Harris began psychological treatment and taking a psychiatric drug a full 14 months before gunning down his classmates. While less is known about the treatment, Dylan Klebold also began psychological treatment at the same time.

Columbine isn't the exception to the rule where mental health treatment and violence is concerned - it is the rule. Shawn Cooper who opened fire at his Notus Idaho high school four days before Columbine was receiving treatment. So was T. J. Solomon who shot at his classmates at his high school near Atlanta a month later.

A year earlier, Kip Kinkel, a 15-year old at Thurston High School in Springfield. Oregon murdered his parents. He then proceeded to school where he opened fire, killing two students and injuring 22 others. He had been prescribed two psychiatric drugs. Earlier that year, Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, opened fire on their classmates in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Conflict resolution was a part of the school's curriculum and Johnson had been receiving psychiatric counseling prior to the shooting.

SO much for the idea that SB-45 will prevent another Columbine.

Children do not lack access to mental health services. Already there are too many mental health practitioners trolling for patients. The end result is that the normal childhood behavior of our children has been "medicalized." Children who run about, fidget or interrupt when others are speaking are said to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children who don't always do what they are told have "Oppositional Defiance Disorder." In the diagnostic and billing handbook used by psychiatrists there are even "diseases" by the name of "Mathematics Disorder," "Disorder of Written Expression" and "learning disorder not otherwise specified."

We have long been told these "illnesses" are "biological," "genetic," or "neurobiological." This deceptive practice elicited a warning from the Drug Enforcement

To avoid legal repercussions psychiatrists now claim their illnesses are "biologically-based," but their dogma remains the same: Parents should no longer waste time disciplining their children or helping them with homework - they should send them to a psychiatrist to have their brain chemistry corrected.

During the years I served on the Colorado State Board of Education, I was not once contacted by a parent who couldn't gain access to mental health care. I was, however, contacted by a number of parents who were pressured or coerced to put their child on psychotropic drugs for one of the "learning disorders." Some examples include: a parent who was given the option of placing her son on a psychotropic drug or withdrawing him from school and a parent who learned that psychological evaluations filled out on her son in the classroom had been falsified to ensure he would become a candidate for "treatment.

I learned that the number of children said to have a psychiatric learning or behavior "disorder" has skyrocketed to an estimated 8 million children in the last decade. This is astonishing when the National Institutes of Health reported in November 1998 that it has been unable to establish the validity of ADHD and the other psychiatric illnesses. I also learned that the drugs prescribed to children said to have these "illnesses" have a long list of dangerous side-effects including the production of psychosis and violent behavior.

The State Board of Education studied scientific documents and listened to expert testimony on both sides of the debate in November 1999. Once the facts were all on the table, we voted 6 to 1 to adopt a resolution urging teachers to use proven academic and disciplinary measures to remedy problems with behavior and learning and to refrain from pressuring parents to believe their child's normal difficulties are "mental illnesses."

Until questions regarding the validity of the childhood "learning disorders" and "mental illnesses" are completely resolved, the debate will rage on. Meanwhile, it is in very poor form to introduce legislation requiring educators to become referral agents for those who have left so many questions unanswered. (Patti Johnson is a former member of the Colorado State Board of Education.)

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