A few weeks ago I wrote a post about TeenScreen, a national mental health and suicide risk screening program that is being implemented in some schools. My post was in favor of the program, but reader “Concerned Mom” responded with a well-written rebuttal to my argument, and she called me out on a few of the points. So I’d like to share that comment with you:

————- Concerned Mom Wrote:

What would you think of a diabetes screening for children that had 84% false-positives? (Meaning that 84% of the people screened were falsely identified and didn’t really have the disease?)

Then, with absolutely no objective testing done to show that an actual physical illness existed, treatment was started.

It’s with this view that some parents are objecting to “mental health screening.” The screening “tools” have an 84% false-positive rate. A recent study from Rochester, NY said that this screening should be considered only investigational in nature. The developer of TeenScreen says that the false-positive rate can overwhelm a school with the number of students identified.

Another study shows that 9 out of 10 of the children who see a psychiatrist will come out of the office with a prescription for drugs that the FDA has decided need a “Black Box Warning” for suicidiality.

Screening for mental health is decidely different from scoliosis, hearing vision or diabetes screening, where actual, objective medical testing (x-rays, blood tests, lab work, etc) can be done to determine the existence of disease or problem.

Then there are the issues on school liability. With schools moving into the realm of what has traditionally been the parents job, what are their liabilities?

A lawsuit already exists where a school screened a child without the parents express, written permission. The child came home from school diagnosed with 2 mental disorders. Based on two of her answers, she was told that she was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder. The OCD diagnosis arose because she answered “yes,” that she did find herself repeatedly doing something she had little or no control over, which according to her meant cleaning her room and doing her chores.

She was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder because she said she felt cut off from friends. She was given no opportunity to say why she felt this way which was because she wasn’t allowed to go out with her friends on school nights. Her parents explain that they don‘t believe children should be out on school nights and so they limit her social occasions to keep her out of trouble.

Also, since when does a screening for scoliosis or vision and hearing have to resort to offering the child “incentives” to bring back the permission form?

TeenScreen repeatedly uses movie and fast food coupons and lottery draws for mall gift certificates to entice the kids to bring back the consent forms from home. Several school have withheld report cards until the child has brought back the form. TeenScreen’s view on this? “Getting the kids to buy in is such an essential thing because for the most part, you’re distributing the consent forms to the kids to bring home to their parents and bring them back. So you have to get their buy in, you have to get them interested in it.”

TeenScreen’s PR company explains why this is important: “Marketing to young people has always been a sensitive topic. But as an audience of 40 million with annual buying power of $364 billion, teens and ‘tweens’ are important customers in the marketplace of products and ideas.”

Then of course, there is the matter of a 10 minute questionnaire being able to correctly identify a child with mental illness. 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 alot 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?

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; and (3) There is insufficient evidence that treatment of those at high risk reduces suicide attempts or mortality.

Two years later, on June 16, 2006, Ned Calonge, the chairman of the Task Force, and the chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, spoke to the Washington Post and said the same findings apply to screening today:

“The panel would reach the same conclusion today… Whether or not we like to admit it, there are no interventions that have no harms… There is weak evidence that screening can distinguish people who will commit suicide from those who will not… And screening inevitably leads to treating some people who do not need it. Such interventions have consequences beyond side effects from drugs or other treatments… Unnecessary care drives up the cost of insurance, causing some people to lose coverage altogether.”

Lastly, any scoliosis, vision, hearing or diabetes screening is not a secretive program. TeenScreen refuses to divulge where they are conducting the screenings, they do not allow parents to view the survey – citing proprietary privileges and copyright protection, and they do not divulge their funding or their sponsors – but their directors and their advisory board is rife with pharmaceutical connections.

So the idea that parents “oppose it solely because they’re uncomfortable with the idea of their children being diagnosed with something that may reflect poorly on” them is not even close to the issue.

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


19,609 parents, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, social workers and nurses agree, Stop TeenScreen!