Kick Big Pharma Out of the Classroom

Jo Ann Cook
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PART 2 of 2

Editor’s note: Read part 1 of this essay, “How ‘Mental Health Awareness’ Exploits Schoolchildren,” here.                    

During my career as a social work consultant and member of a multi-disciplinary team in Canadian schools, we staff were tasked with supporting, counseling, and advocating for students with academic, emotional, or behavioral issues, which were said to impede their ability to succeed in school. Beginning in the 1990s, however, we were urged to view our students’ difficulties as “mental health” problems, and to deliver our students over to medical experts, who would often prescribe drug treatments.

For example, one handbook, When Something’s Wrong: Ideas for Teachers by the Canadian Psychiatric Foundation, told administrators and school principals that a significant number of students were suffering from a brain dysfunction. But the causes of these “common” mental disorders — anxiety, autism, depression, eating disorders, impulse control disorders, schizophrenia, and others — were said to be unknown. Although there were no physiological tests to determine the existence of any of these disorders, the handbook assured teachers that they did exist, and drug treatment worked.

My experience was showing me otherwise. And the main force driving school-based “mental health awareness” initiatives was becoming increasingly clear to me. Adorning the back of When Something’s Wrong, alongside the names of sponsoring local businesses and non-profit organizations, were the names of drug companies: Lundbeck, Pfizer, Sanofi-Syntel, and Janssen-Ortho.

Then, I discovered a 1990 booklet titled ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Learning Disabilities Booklet for the Classroom Teacher, which filled in some of the missing pieces. The booklet, written by a psychiatrist named Larry Silver, was sponsored by the drug company Ciba-Geigy. Ciba-Geigy was clearly using it as a marketing tool to increase sales of Ritalin by promoting the disorder to teachers.

Documents like these, I realized, are part of the arsenal of tactics pharmaceutical giants and their allies have used to sell psychiatric drugs as healthful for children — and thereby maintain a steady stream of customers for their products.

How Pharma Entered Schools

The U.S. Surgeon General’s declaration of a childhood mental health crisis in 2001, which launched so many of these school-based initiatives, was itself heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. The 2000 Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health, which preceded it, included a related meeting on “Psychopharmacology for Young Children: Clinical Needs and Research Opportunities” held by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Food and Drug Administration. Recommendations from these two meetings formed the basis of the national action agenda.

This alliance was not new. As Dr. Peter Breggin documented in his book The War Against Children of Color (1998), big pharma has been funneling money — both directly and indirectly — to National Institutes of Health research programs searching for biological markers for disruptive behaviors since the 1960s. This industry-government partnership ramped up in the early 1990s with the now-discredited federal “violence initiative,” which aimed to identify and medically treat alleged genetic defects in inner-city youth that were said to predispose them to crime.

Consequently, strategies such as the “talk to your doctor” campaign about any childhood problem have been extremely effective in helping the industry to marginalize traditional child-rearing practices to control children’s behavior and replace them with advice from mental health “experts” and the use of dangerous drugs. These campaigns are reminiscent of now-illegal vintage tobacco ads in which doctors endorsed cigarette smoking.

Other tactics, including illegal marketing of drugs for unapproved uses in children, along with health insurance fraud, kickbacks to doctors, and failure to disclose safety data, have been well documented in the news media but are little known to consumers. These crimes have led to billions in fines against pharma companies. Clearly, the fines have not been an effective deterrent.

Workshops as Drug Sales

The pathologizing of children has also led to opportunism. The schools where I worked were inundated with requests from various individuals and interest groups to get a piece of the action. Beginning in the 2000s, anti-bullying and anxiety-management programs, various forms of therapy, and psychological assessments began to proliferate. For example, the influential Collaborative Problem-Solving approach developed by psychologist Ross Greene in collaboration with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital became the rage. At a two-day workshop I attended in 2010, Greene encouraged teachers to lower their expectations for children with disruptive behaviors and view these kids as simply having developmental deficits that were biological in nature.

If these collaborative problem-solving strategies did not work with some children, Greene suggested, that could mean these youth were suffering from bipolar disorder and needed medication. (At the time, Greene was an associate of psychiatrist Joseph Biederman, who first promoted the notion of childhood bipolar disorder.) Teachers were advised to recommend Greene’s book The Explosive Child to their students’ parents, and it has since become a bestseller.

The trend continues today. Consider what school board superintendents were taught at a recent workshop in Vancouver by psychiatrist Stan Kutcher, the Sun Life chair of Adolescent Mental Health at Dalhousie University. According to his workshop guide for educators, “The exact cause of mental illnesses is not yet known…” But the guide then goes on to contradict this assertion by claiming or implying dozens of times that mental illnesses have biological causes just like physical illnesses, and that medications are the best way to treat them.

On page 25 of the guide, there is a link to a video called “Ellie’s Depression.” Toward the end of the video, formerly sad and struggling Ellie is shown happily taking pills, emphasizing the message that drugs are the solution to her problem. No parents or family are depicted.

It’s doubtful school administrators, parents, or students know that Kutcher was one of the authors of the infamous medical journal article on Study 329. The study, which downplayed the negative effects of the antidepressant Paxil in teenagers, was later discovered to have been ghostwritten by a PR company hired by the drug’s producer.  Kutcher has also been a consultant and advisor to what drug policy researcher Alan Cassels called a “laundry list of the world’s biggest drug companies”: GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and more.

Yet Kutcher and psychiatrists like him continue to hold such workshops across Canada.

Enough Is Enough

In my role as a social work consultant, I regularly informed parents of the serious side effects of psychiatric drugs. Speaking out led to disapproval from my superiors. I began to feel powerless in trying to support and counsel students, particularly high school students, who had been drugged with various cocktails since kindergarten and were subsequently experiencing tragic academic and life outcomes.

I was haunted by the trajectory of youths like Jordan, a then 15-year-old boy who was no longer attending school due to anxiety issues. In 2014, I was asked to assess and write a report on his academic needs. I had access to all his school reports from kindergarten to grade 10, including psychological, medical and psychiatric histories. In Jordan’s early grades, there was no sign that he was anything but a normal, inquisitive child. However, his teachers reported he had difficulty managing routines and was overly concerned with getting the right answer.

The school recommended a psychological assessment, which led to a diagnosis of anxiety and a prescription for Prozac from a psychiatrist. The boy was subsequently hospitalized for aggressive outbursts, suicidal threats, and severe anxiety. In the hospital, he was given an additional diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder and prescribed Celexa and Risperdal before being released.

The medical industry likes to claim that the medical treatment this boy and others receive leads to successful academic outcomes and hopeful futures. This did not happen. As a result of his treatment with an array of mind-impairing drugs, Jordan reacted by becoming overly anxious, fearful, and refusing to go to school. By grade ten he was no longer attending at all.

I decided to suggest Robert Whitaker’s book Anatomy of an Epidemic to his parents. I did so nervously because I’d learned that some parents who bought into their children’s diagnoses can be offended by alternate information and might file a complaint to the school principal. I never found out if they read the book, or what happened to Jordan, because I ultimately resigned my post.

My supervisors had asked me to in-service teachers on a new government document that asked teachers to refer students suspected of mental disorders to health professionals. The document included detailed information on the incidence of mental health problems, descriptions of their symptoms, and strategies to support children with these conditions — with zero references to any evidence-based science. I couldn’t do it.

A Plea to Parents

I urge parents to educate themselves not only about the dangers of psychiatric diagnoses and drugs but also about the many hidden factors operating within our increasingly competitive school system, which are harmful to the well-being of children.

Among them: Recent test results track with socioeconomic status such that the richest and poorest school districts have average performance levels more than four grade levels apart. Although all children are at risk of being labeled with mental disorders in school, fewer middle-class children are prescribed psychiatric drugs because income inequalities are often at the root of children’s learning difficulties. A recent report on ADHD caseloads, for example, shows that there has been an explosion in ADHD diagnoses among lower- socioeconomic groups while the rates of diagnosis of those who are better off are declining. Low socioeconomic groups are an easy target within the school system. Any child lagging in skills is more likely to be tagged with ADHD or depression, as they were in my schools. Drug companies have capitalized on these inequities.

Parents, teachers, health professionals, child advocates, and consumer groups need to speak out against this destructive childhood trend and lobby their education and government officials to get the pharmaceutical industry and its “thought leaders” out of schools.

Parents! Be proactive. Tell teachers and experts that when it comes to your children’s behavior, you know what is best for them and you will not accept any suggestion that they need mind-altering chemicals.

Teachers! Stop helping to identify mental health disorders in your students. Instead, look for social and emotional factors at home or school that may be causing difficulties.

Health professionals! Stop using the term “mental health problems” when referring to children’s emotional or behavior issues. Children and adolescents need support and encouragement, not stigmatizing labels. Parents need accurate information about the dangerous side effects of Ritalin and other psychiatric drugs.

Our children’s future and well-being depend on all of us. We must act now.

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Jo Ann Cook
Jo Ann Cook holds a master’s degree in social work from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She has extensive experience in the field of child welfare and was employed for 25 years as a social work consultant in the special education department of a large metropolitan school board. Jo Ann is the author of Making Healthy Children Sick: What the Mental Health Industry Is Not Telling You.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks and this was a perceptive overview.
    I, of course, have some thoughts from my own perspective on several levels.
    Children are not just affected by family and economics / it is the world as it is for them and us.
    The Social Work role is diffuse who are you advocating for? Both parents and children need their own advocates.
    School counselors in my locale could see students without parental permissions.
    I have and had concerns with this.
    PTA- this is an issue and the Social Service/ Psychology fields have staid out of it to the determinant of the school community at times.
    So much depends on who is who and where is where.
    Title I in the US had Social Work and Parent Councils attached to it at one time but Federal funding became an issue.
    Open Air Schools pre WWI in the US did cater to thq health and family situations with the idea of TB prevention.1

  2. Hi, you may remember me from your last article.

    Looking over the materials, I wonder how the heck I avoided a juvenile bipolar diagnosis. I looked at the text for “The Explosive Child” and noticed myself in it right away. But looking back on it, a main reason I went over the top when I got angry is because that’s what was modeled for me. My dad was abused as a kid and though he didn’t go all out on me, I was still affected by his temper and feared him when he was angry.

    The problem wasn’t that I had a dysfunctioning brain — it’s that I was part of a dysfunctional family! I think that if someone had seen *that* instead of blaming the problem on me, then I would have had an entirely different life.

    I think that the stigma of being “ill” also weighs very heavily on kids. The overarching narrative for someone with depression is that they will always be vulnerable to it and that it could come back at any time, so better keep taking your drugs! It makes kids fearful of their own mind, which can set off a chain reaction where the child expects to get worse so they do get worse.

    Going further, once a kid is pegged as sick, they’re watched like a hawk. The kid is fearful? Anxiety disorder, we have drugs for that. The kid is angry? Bipolar disorder, we have drugs for that. The kid is excitable? ADHD, we have drugs for that.

    It just leads to a self-perpetuating cycle.

  3. Instead of drugs, a child needs to come home and tell his mom what happened, how he felt, what he thought, withholding nothing, and she would absorb it all, and somehow, she could handle it, explain it, and then it wasn’t so bad after all.

    • dfk Sometimes the mom is the source of the stress.

      But yes, talk to someone. Grandma, friend, teacher, minister, neighbor (I talked to the Mom of the family who I babysat).

      Peers are not the best for children to talk to, because they are still forming world views, and are frightened of anything “different” to their own experience. But an older person will have perspective on what someone is going through.

  4. Jo Ann, thank you for your blogs. This information is beyond disturbing. Parents need to know the propaganda and initiatives are serving Big Pharma and not their children. They need to know the drugs are harming their children and destroying their futures. I hope many parents and teachers read this. Your integrity and genuine concern for the well-being of the children is most commendable!

  5. Kudos to you, Jo Ann! Thank you for pointing all this out. I’ve been recommending Whitaker’s book to teachers, pastors, social workers, parents of child abuse survivors, and others who work with children that I know. As well as videos which I think may reach some of them more effectively. The brainwashing goes so deep. I’m sorry you had to resign, that speaks loudly as to the magnitude of the brainwashing, however.

    I will point out that the school social workers are also coming after the “middle class” children, who are outside of the bell curve on the upper end. Oh, because of that “genetic problem” of a family history of high intelligence – the horror! Drug America’s best and brightest, drug all the children! The majority of school social workers have truly lost their minds, IMHO. Thank you for speaking out against this harm, and thankfully in my family’s case attempted harm, of our children by our school social workers, their teacher pawns, and other “mental health” workers.

    • Why are they coming after the young “intelligencia” SE? Afraid all that intelligence and creativity will disrupt the learning process?

      The world pharma-psychiatry wants to create sounds more and more like the dystopia Kurt Vonnegut depicted in “Harrison Bergeron.”

      My own IQ went up almost 20 points after my taper btw. But I didn’t start the drugs till I was over 18 and my brain had almost matured.

      • I’ve got a non-clinical psychologist on my ass right now, because my artwork is apparently too “truthful” for my childhood church. He’s supposedly giving me an ‘artist of the year’ award. And he tried to get me to sign an “artist manager” contract, which was actually an ‘I want to take all the profits from your work, eventually own all your work, take control of your story, and of all your family’s money, not to mention take control of all your legal and accounting affairs’ contract. Of course I didn’t sign it.

        Why are they coming after the intelligent young? Like I innately knew in 2001, when they came after me, the wrong bankers are in charge. Pharma-psychiatry are pawns of the war mongering and profiteering, bailout needing, fiscally irresponsible, “banks stole trillions in houses,” globalist banksters.

        https://boingboing.net/2013/08/12/unsealed-court-settlement-docu.html

        Banksters, who are apparently afraid the “intelligencia” of America, will prevent them from bringing about their satanic NWO.

        Thankfully, I too didn’t likely lose too many IQ points from the massive psychiatric poisonings, once weaned off all the drugs. Because I was given an IQ test by an employer as I was being weaned off the drugs, and only missed one on the IQ test. My employer was a lawyer who also took the test at the time, he missed five on the IQ test. But when I was being massively poisoned, my medical records did state I was borderline moronic, or something to that effect.

  6. Keep Big Pharma and the APA out of the academic courses in colleges, grad schools and pre-med and med schools. Prevent them from teaching the “biochemical medical model.” It’s disgusting!!! It’s disrupting the fabric of our lives. Thank you for your 2-part article.

    • It will destroy Western Civilization. My 12 year old nephew was put on Zoloft for his fixation on tidiness and anxiety. Now he’s failing every subject and is indifferent to everything. His parents shrug it off as a minor “side effect of the medication.” I kid you not. How is that an improvement?

      I see the boy’s being groomed for a future as a professional mental patient. Ugh. 🙁

      • I’ve got a niece struggling with the anxiety drugs and antidepressants too. It breaks my heart. Drugging millions and millions of children will destroy Western civilization, I agree. But apparently destroying Western Civilization is the goal of the “mental health” workers, and their satanic NWO masters.

        • I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. At least not one run by human beings. The Big Pharma companies want as much money as possible and–like greedy, selfish people often are–have no forethought and refuse to think more than a decade or two ahead.

          Like the Washington demagogues who refuse to think beyond winning the next election. Or the NAMI mommy who just wants her “crazy” kid to shut up for the short term, though she should know it will keep him from adult independence–likely forcing him to live in her basement in his forties.

          “Do you want it done right or do you want it done fast?” Pharma psychiatry offers fast fixes and easy answers. Forget the long term results! This is America.

          • A conspiracy is precisely what it is Rachel.

            https://www.truthdig.com/articles/sheldon-wolin-and-inverted-totalitarianism/

            Americans have been socialized to participate in a capitalist state and to willingly give away the value of their labor to the corporations running the country.

            Any attempts at collectivism have been squashed repeatedly by our capitalist government. So a collectivist approach to emotional distress and trouble in the community has been socialized to us as pathological and we are cultured to distance ourselves from that and to leave it to the professionals – who are waiting to capitalize on the very distress the system creates by design.

      • Rachel777, My heart broke for your nephew. I don’t have children, but I have 6 nieces and nephews who I love tenderly and fiercely as if I was their second Mom. I am a broken record with my sister and brother about NOT MEDICATING THEM no matter what. I wrote in my own story about how lucky I was to come out clean (non medicated) when I was young and struggling throughout my high school years. I wish more people were pissed off at the injustice and the constant assault from the the medical/mental health industries on us. Making us ill, keeping us ill, and making us believe we are ill is profitable. 🙁 UGH. My heart breaks whenever I see babies and children being pumped full of vaccinations and urged to take poisonous, synthetic medications, which also makes my blood boil. The tactic of making parents fearful if they don’t vaccinate and medicate their kids is such a tool for control. Using fear to make us complaint is as sinister as it gets.

        Aching heart,
        Starr

  7. Ellie is hallucinating too. Bring on the neuroleptics!

    Am I the only one to question how counseling does anyone any good if painful emotions are reduced to a brain disease? If pills are the only cure for sadness why bother talking about it since the sadness is just an irrational symptom of a disease and should be ignored like delusions or hallucinations?

    I was depressed as a 7 year old. Not a brain disease. Lousy learning environment. Kept getting yelled at for knowing more than my cognitively disabled peers. SBD class for behavioral issues no amount of punishment could cure. I was a wicked child. 🙁

  8. Ms. Cook, As a member of the “special education assessment team” at my public elementary school, this was my tactic – which cut referrals to the psychologist by over half: I said I would refuse to sign off on these referrals unless “we”, faculty at the school, had tried at least two “interventions” and proven that they failed. These interventions included such things as –
    1. Making more room around the child’s desk, thus giving him/her more “breathing space”.
    2. Switching classrooms, if the teacher – who had referred the child in the first place – felt that he/she was “burned out” on helping the student in question.
    3. Setting up a system that provided quiet time and a quiet space for the student, or established a way in which the student could receive special attention or rewards – taking attendance to the office, that sort of thing.
    I also said baldly that I didn’t believe that drugging children was the right thing to do – in most cases, it was harmful to the child and a black mark on us.

    • While I applaud your attempt to help kids avoid psychiatric treatment, none of these things you suggest will address the source of behavior problems, which is universally in the child’s environment and needs to address the family problems leading to difficulties with school. One of the things that made school life difficult for my sisters and I was consistently going to school hungry and with dirty bodies, smelly mouths, tangled hair, and dirty clothes. This led to horrific teasing from the overwhelmingly well off kids in our classes, usually not in places where adults were around to witness, like at the lunch table, in the bathroom, on the school bus, or on the playground.

      As long as we target kids for intervention, we miss the source of the problem.

      • Believe me, we dealt with children who came to school hungry, dirty, poorly clothed – the gamut. We dealt with MS-13 gangs, Immigration and Naturalization coming at dawn to remove parents here as illegal immigrants, sixth grade girls who had been raped. You name it. We were a very close faculty for the most part, with a principal who spoke fluent Spanish.

        • Thanks ebl! There are a ton of driving factors why kids are being labeled and drugs are recommended but you seem to be navigating your position well. Having a supportive admin is so important. I know of one district that has a written policy that frowns upon labeling children and “medications” can’t be recommended. It was written because the community and parents demanded it. The teachers fear loosing their jobs so they don’t cross that line regardless if their personal opinion is otherwise. Yes, it’s one district, but I learned that change is possible.