Is Screening for Mental Illness in Children a Bad Idea?


Psychology Salon psychologist Randy Paterson discusses the Mad In America investigative report about a program that trains physicians and school staff to more readily diagnose mental illnesses in children. “Authors of the initiatives almost always talk about the enhancement of social supports, the provision of psychotherapy, involvement with community, and so on,” writes Paterson. “But in the real world of medical practice, screening usually translates into prescriptions written.”

Screening for Childhood Mental Illness in BC: Good Idea or Pharma Marketing? (Psychology Salon, December 23, 2014)


  1. I agree with the prescription comment. That and counseling, both of which never seemed to do much for my young son but I believe that it was all too little too late. No one wanted to see his issues soon enough. Particularly the school that would have had to pay for any special programs he would have had to have although eventually those in patient programs were all that saved him. Or us as a family. Barely. My marriage didn’t survive. He looks back on it all now as something he wished he’d had more time involved with instead of fighting it every step of the way. Nobody counts the cost to the families either. The hours of travel and group therapy necessary to suss out the issues so they can be addressed. The calls when things go wrong and you have to be there. The cost for the meds and the doctors. The isolation. Too little, too late and not enough help. Not enough recognition of the problems that families alone cannot surmount. The judgement of families with problems regardless of whether those problems were of their own making or not by the very people that should have been there to help support their efforts to succeed. The realization that no matter which step you take, your kid will always be different and held to a standard he cannot sustain. I count myself lucky still. At least mine survives. Many of the kids he in patient was with didn’t. By the time he was twenty, he had been to more funerals than I had been to in my whole life. So I count my blessings but I can’t help believing that things would have been different for him had he been given a chance earlier to have the help he needed instead of those comments you heard to excuse and discount what you already knew. You know the ones. Boys will be boys. You’re not doing enough as a parent. Maybe it’s because you were a single parent. Maybe its because he has a step father now. Perhaps you need to discipline him more…or less. We’re not seeing anything wrong so it must be you. Those things that make you doubt yourself and keep you from demanding more from them until it’s too late and much of the problems are ingrained. Why is my son the way he is? I don’t really know. Nothing stands out in his early life, in his upbringing or in my parenting skills. We’re a loving caring family and he’s amazing in spite of his issues. So I count myself lucky but I know that real help isn’t there.

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  2. I ran into sort-of the opposite experience. The school social workers misunderstood / missed my child’s real issue when when my son was very young (he had been sexual abused), they just put him in a remedial reading class. He had largely recovered by the time he was in eighth grade, and had gotten 100% on his state standardized tests. This is when I got a call from the school social worker claiming I was keeping my child up night studying and pushing him too hard. I told her I was a mean mom who had my child in bed by 9, and that he was constantly playing World of Warcraft because he never had any homework. I guess my point is that school social workers seem quite incapable of assessing children’s actual problems, and assets.

    I will also mention that I have been to cocktail parties where social workers and special Ed teachers stand around discussing which children need which diagnosis and med. But since there are medical privacy laws it strikes me more training for the school staff just results in children being defamed by gossipy women, who are thrilled it’s their right to “diagnose” children with “mental illnesses,” at cocktail parties. I think diagnosing people with real diseases should be kept confidential and done by doctors, and I do not believe anyone should be diagnosing children with scientifically invalid disorders. And, absolutely putting children on psychotropic drugs is immoral.

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