Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Letter to Editor Says It All

This is a letter to the editor of the Fort Wayne Indiana News-Sentinel in response to an article about TeenScreen:


The article, "Help to ensure happy, healthy kids," by Jennifer L. Boen, barely scratches the surface over the controversy of mental health screening. Before the author goes touting supposed benefits, the pitfalls need to be examined. Why? Because it's a child's life that hangs in the balance.

To date there has been no study or documentation that proves that screening "benefits children," and there is no scientific study that shows that "early intervention can also spare a life." But there is plenty of evidence showing otherwise.

Experts say there is no evidence to support that TeenScreen does anything other than guarantee that a large number of children will end up on drugs. In May, 2004, after an in-depth investigation, the United States Preventive Services Task Force issued a report with findings that said:

1. There is no evidence that screening for suicide risk reduces suicide attempts or mortality; 2. There is limited evidence on the accuracy of screening tools to identify suicide risk; 3. There is insufficient evidence that treatment of those at high risk reduces suicide attempts or mortality.

A 2006 study that investigated TeenScreen, said that mental health screening should be considered only investigational in nature, and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) labels screening as "experimental."

According to another 2006 peer-reviewed study: "Simply Asking Questions Can Increase Risky Behaviors" - the title says it all.

Then of course, there is the matter of TeenScreen's 10-minute questionnaire, a survey that asks questions such as:

1. Have you often felt very nervous or uncomfortable when you have been with a group of children or young people - say, like in the lunchroom at school or at a party?
2. Have you often felt very nervous when you've had to do things in front of people?
3. Have you often worried a lot before you were going to play a sport or game or do some other activity?
4. Has there been a time when you had less energy then you usually do?
5. Has there been a time when you felt you couldn't do anything well or that you weren't as good-looking or as smart as other people?
6. Has there been a time when nothing was fun for you and you just weren't interested in anything?

Hmm, sounds like normal behavior and thoughts are being labeled as pathological.

The screening "tools" have an 84 percent false-positive rate, meaning that 84 percent of the children screened were falsely identified. The developer of TeenScreen says that the false-positive rate can overwhelm a school with the number of students identified and acknowledges that his screening tool "would deliver many who were not at risk for suicide, and that could reduce the acceptability of a school-based prevention program."

TeenScreen is set up to "arrange treatment" - their words. TeenScreen claims throughout their literature that "The TeenScreen Program makes no treatment recommendations," yet "treatment" is the long-term goal for TeenScreen, according to their director. The TeenScreen developer says, "The main role is to motivate the student and their parents to seek treatment and to connect the adolescent to a mental health service in their community."

There are ways to help our children but screening them for mental health is not one of them.

Susan Weibert

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