How “Mental Health Awareness” Exploits Schoolchildren

Jo Ann Cook

(Part 1 of 2)

On December 18, 2018, U. S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued a public health advisory urging parents, teachers, and health professionals to address an epidemic of childhood e-cigarette use. The advisory emphasized repeatedly that the nicotine in e-cigarettes was addictive; was harmful to the developing brain; affected learning, memory, and attention; and exposed the lungs to harmful chemicals. In a press release, one federal health official claimed that “we have never seen use of any substance by America’s young people [to] rise as rapidly…” To address this crisis, the surgeon general’s office proposed local bans on indoor vaping and recommended retail restrictions to reduce the purchase of e-cigarettes among youth.

While the government chose to single out the rise of e-cigarette use, it has been ignoring the astronomical spread of another type of dangerous drug taken by children and youth: psychiatric medications.

Drugs now commonly taken by millions of school-age children, including ADHD stimulants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics, have been shown to be harmful to the developing brain, as well as addictive. Although these risks are often unrecognized or downplayed in the media, books including Dr. Grace Jackson’s Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs and Dr. Peter Breggin’s Medication Madness offer detailed substantiation of the drugs’ modes of action.

Academic studies, court documents, FDA reports, and black-box warnings on drug information sheets present a disturbing picture of the short- and long-term health risks of these drugs, which are frequently prescribed “off label” for conditions unapproved for use in children. Adverse effects include hallucinations, hyperactivity, mania, addiction, depression, severe metabolic disturbances, heart disease and strokes, somnolence, akathisia, severe weight gain, metabolic syndrome, suicidal tendencies and completed suicides, and early death.

Yet far from being perceived as a public health crisis, the extensive use of these highly potent drugs has been framed as a public health solution. And today, no child in North America is safe from this government and corporate pill-pushing campaign, because it is centered in our schools.

A Troubling Trend Evolves

In 1990, I was employed as a social work consultant in the Special Education Department of a large metropolitan school board in Ontario, Canada. My role consisted of working with other team members to support students with academic, attendance, social, and behavioral issues at both the elementary and high school levels.  It included writing social histories for students who were having academic or behavioral difficulties and recommending strategies or alternative school programs. Over a 25-year period, I dealt with just about every imaginable behavior and academic problem in children and adolescents.

At the time, the use of psychiatric medications with youth was rare to nonexistent, even in the child welfare system where I had previously worked with traumatized adolescents. It was unthinkable. So I was taken aback in the mid-nineties when teachers referred several elementary students I was working with to doctors who prescribed them stimulants such as Ritalin or Concerta.

I wondered how a pill could fix what was troubling Ben, age eight, whose mother was dying from cancer; Jared, age five, whose parents had recently separated; Jamie, age nine, whose parents were struggling with addictions; and Ruby, age 10, who had been taken from her mother and placed in a foster family. All the children’s teachers considered them to have attentional or behavioral issues. Once the students received a diagnosis, these teachers tended to respond by lowering expectations and inflating school marks on their behalf, which made it appear that the drugs worked.

This situation continued to vex me as I began to encounter more and more students who were diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed stimulants. Why were normal, vulnerable children being placed on drugs that had serious risks? There were safer alternatives. Although the drugs sedated some children for a short time, others developed serious conduct problems. Instead of observing improvements in behavior or academics, I began seeing behaviors that I had never witnessed before.

Some children reacted by becoming more hyperactive, running out of their classrooms and refusing to do schoolwork. They were easily irritated, argumentative, and aggressive with peers and teachers. This behavior usually led to further medical assessments, more drugs, a government disability allowance, and special behavior classes.

Side Effects and Suicides

Then, in early 2000, I noticed that the adolescents I was working with—many of whom were dealing with difficult home or academic issues—were now being prescribed antidepressants. The teenagers confided that on the drugs, they had feelings of panic, self-hate, and suicidal thoughts they’d never had before. I became further distressed when a sixth-grade student began complaining to me that he could not stop his facial muscles from twitching. He had been diagnosed with severe ADHD and prescribed Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug, in combination with Ritalin and Clonidine.

A call to the boy’s pediatrician about his temper outbursts and touching other students was met with a recommendation for more discipline, not less medication. The doctor later added more medication, an antidepressant, to this 11-year-old’s daily regime.

Another child, a six-year-old girl who had been prescribed Risperdal for behavior issues, threw a chair through a glass partition in the principal’s office. Violent outbursts at the elementary and high school became common and police intervention became practically a daily occurrence. Several youths, one as young as 10 years old, committed suicide.

Doubling Down on Diagnosis and ‘Treatment’

By 2007, a staff psychologist was suggesting that 20 percent of our students had mental health problems. Our special services staff, composed of psychologists and social workers, had no idea to whom they were referring. We had never thought of or dealt with our students as mentally ill before. But by 2009, all school board staff were subjected to three full days of government-mandated mental health training.

More workshops of this nature took place over the next six years. I observed administrators mount a concerted effort to encourage school personnel to refer students for medical treatments. Teachers were influenced at every turn to believe that their students’ academic and behavioral problems were the result of biological disorders of the brain and that it was their job to intervene—even if it meant stepping into families’ personal lives and private medical decisions.

Imagine being a mother at a meeting with educators to discuss Johnny’s academics or behavior. Suddenly, your child’s teacher is telling you that he needs to see a doctor for an assessment of a suspected “mental disorder,” which usually leads to a prescription for medication. Warned that “the risks against failing to intervene” may lead to negative outcomes—school failure, substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, poor employment prospects, and incarceration—you will likely acquiesce. Who would not want to spare their child from tragic life events?

How Did This Happen?

What I witnessed in Canadian schools had been imported from America. Every recent U.S. President from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama has called on schools to promote “mental health” treatments. But the focus on medical solutions began with Surgeon General David Satcher, whose National Action Agenda for Children’s Mental Health declared in 2001 that millions of children were suffering from mental illnesses severe enough to impair their development. According to this report, these conditions—including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, and anxiety—could be successfully treated with “safe and effective” medications.

Notably, the government identified the school as an essential site to help identify these suffering students and help them to access the treatments they supposedly needed.

Educators were advised to “watch for the signs” and to intervene immediately by referring children as young as kindergarten age to health providers for diagnosis. Teachers were urged to incorporate mental health information into their curricula and to train their students to recognize mental illness, stigma, and the benefit of mental health treatments.

Concurrently, federal, state, and municipal governments launched a series of aggressive “mental health” education campaigns across the country to better educate front-line providers and families. The campaigns were bolstered by an endless stream of magazine, radio, and television ads sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry claiming that the early symptoms of mental illnesses could be detected in children as young as two and successfully treated with psychiatric drugs. Unlike other direct-to-consumer drug ads, these failed to mention any side effects or risks to the developing brains and bodies of children and adolescents.

Soon, doctors began working hand in hand with educators to identify, label, and medicate any child who might be inattentive, different, bored, too slow, poor, anxious, argumentative, defiant, or acting out. Supposedly, according to biological psychiatrist Stan Kutcher, medication could “fix various brain circuits that are not working the way they should be”—despite a lack of evidence that any childhood behaviors are due to faulty brains.

The result: Schools, under the direction of government ministries, have been transformed into hubs for the diagnosis of mental illnesses. According to this industry, no child is considered too young for scrutiny. And so, the drugging continues.

Read Part 2 of this blog here.

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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.


  1. This is from today’s news in Maryland:

    Interestingly, suicide is the number one cause of death for Lyme disease, Lyme disease is endemic in Maryland, and children are at unique risk because of the greater time they spend outdoors.

    I cannot imagine placing my depressed child on a psychiatric medication under the guise that it would *reduce* their odds of suicide. I’m deeply saddened for the children who will become the victims of this suicide reduction initiative.

        • Sorry to bore anyone who’s heard my story before, but we got the full BS package from the psychiatrist. Splitting us from our child, telling us “its most important to realize its not teenage angst, its a serious biological blah blah”. Telling the child that antipsychotics will make you feel better, cure your anxiety, get you back into school (no chance). Telling us that antidepressants were out of the question because of suicidality, then telling the child they will lift mood and then prescribing at maximum dose as they didn’t work. Without even knowing the license let alone providing any information.

          It stopped when the child said “let’s bring my parents in on this antidepressant decision”, and we said no to the dose increase. Several meetings asking if we had changed our minds. In desperation the psychiatrist tried to split us off again asking for a “private word” in order to continue to hector us about our disregard for our childs serious illness. The child refused.

          A second psychiatrist made a unconvincing bid for another off-label antidepressant, a real sedater heavily linked with suicide, we said where’s the evidence.

          Eventually many months later came the long process of coming down off meds.

          Now back in school and thriving. Wasted 6 months and incurred a few extra scars but survived child psychiatry. I cannot believe this quackery is sanctioned by the state.

          • All I can say is, “WELL DONE!” But you are right, no one should have to fight off the people who are claiming to be helpful. It is baffling that they still get away with it.

    • This country still peddles in the child trafficking system known as infant adoption. The affluent tend to wait to have children until they are old enough to experience more fertility issues and then purchase children from the poor. The antiabortion and antiwelfare lobbies in the US serves to continue this practice. Those who don’t want to deal with the potential for birthmother issues purchase their children from abroad.

      The military is waiting to put down any uprising notions the poor may develop. We all saw what happened to occupy.

    • That’s why I will never have children Mark. Nothing like an SMI label to destroy all your dreams and hopes for this life.

      This is already happening. Crippling 20-25% of the next generation before puberty is almost as effective as sterilization. Birth rates in developed countries are in steep decline. In Europe there are actually programs and incentives encouraging folks to have kids.

      I don’t see it as a conscious effort, but short sighted greed and not giving a rip about the people harmed. Western civilization is doomed–in large part thanks to the “doctors” who gladly sell poisons to trusting patients in exchange for warm doughnuts and free peeks up Yolanda, the hot pharma rep’s mini skirt. 😛

      • Rachel, I hope you’ve heard about the so-called “de-population agenda”? The “Georgia Guide Stones”? Reducing Earth’s population to a stable ~500,000,000? That’s less than 10% of current population. Yes, you can quickly and easily slip into “paranoid conspiracy theory” when researching the de-population agenda online. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. And even IF it COULD somehow be PROVEN not real, it’s still a valid lens to look at modern, Western, industrialized society through. I’m not trying to depress you, or bum you out, tho! But now that you mention it, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve heard anything in the media about the SUPPOSED “overpopulation problem”. (No, I’m NOT saying that global population pressure is NOT a factor for concern. But negativity and pessimism are no good, either!)
        Rachel, you’re one of my favorite commenters on here. Please don’t give in to “depression” and negativity. The Dalai Lama & Buddhism can teach about “independent happiness”, as opposed to “dependent happiness”. I don’t know whether Bill Wilson and the 12 Steps of A.A. recovery, or the Dalai Lama has helped me more! But dumping psych DRUGS, and the pseudoscience of psychiatry was *KEY*, and CRUCIAL! 😉

  2. I feel the need to point out an elephant in the room here as well.

    SSI has become the new child welfare. If you’re too poor to care for your kids, and astute enough to know how to game the system, having them drugged and declared mentally ill guarantees a monthly income for that child in SSI payments. This is a much wider spread practice than is truly appreciated and while you might be tempted to blame the impoverished parent for essentially committing fraud, our social safety nets have eroded to the point that a parent who struggles with employment for whatever reasons is at risk of losing their children.

    There really has to be a better way to support children and families and provide an education to kids that doesn’t result in creating lifelong mental patients.

    One answer might be to stop funding foreign wars and route that money back to American interest like funding exceptional schools. The most necessary first step is to reduce school class sizes to numbers one teacher can reasonably hope to manage without resorting to chemical and/or legal force. Another idea would be to fund arts and music, physical education, and daily recess.

          • Omgosh, this touches my heart in so many ways, not the least of which because of the heavy queer presence in my family (my aunt will finally be marrying her princess bride at a Disney this year) and being raised in the queer community during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s. Thank you so much for sharing this. Don’t know how I haven’t seen it before.

          • So glad that spoke to you, KS. I think it’s awesome and one of the most inspiring and moving pieces of art I’ve ever seen. I was living in The Castro when this came out.

            Congrats to your aunt! Sounds like this will be an awesome wedding, Disney, how cool 🙂 I went from voc rehab graduation, crossed the street to San Francicsco City Hall, and my partner and I were among the first to be married. About 500 or so people in line! Now that was a party!

            Living in The Castro was an experience. The power and strength of the LGBTQ movement is astounding and inspiring. I worked hard as a volunteer to bring equality in marriage. Then it happened!!!

            I’d love to know more about your experiences with the queer community, KS.

  3. Yes, the whole thing is a travesty. “Imagine being a mother at a meeting with educators to discuss Johnny’s academics or behavior ….”

    That was basically me in 2009. Only it started with a phone call from the school social worker, who spewed her insane delusions that I was “keeping your child up late nights studying” and “you’re pushing your child too hard.” I told her I was a mean mother who had her children in bed by 9pm every night. And I told her my child rarely had homework, and my husband had taken over doing homework with my son, if he did need help. Then I asked her if there was any behavioral problems (I already knew there were not, since I’d regularly been told by many teachers that my children were the best behaved children they’d ever had in their classes). The school social worker conceded there were none, and hung up in embarrassment. I learned later that week that my child had surprised the school by getting 99-100% on all his state standardized tests.

    But it didn’t end there. I had a parent teacher conference about a week later with all my child’s teachers, not just one teacher at a time. All of these teachers started attacking me with the school social worker’s delusions. I was shocked and appalled. I denied the social worker’s delusions. I ended up having to ask the teachers if any of them had ever heard of genetics. I went on to discuss my family history of the “genetic problem” of high intelligence. Dad was a well respected banker and was Phi Beta Kappa in college, mom had a biology degree, uncle a chemistry degree, and my new employer at the time had given me an IQ test prior to hiring me, and I had tested in the genius range. Finally the science teacher awoke out of the teachers’ collective trance, grabbed me, and took me to the principal’s office.

    The science teacher was wonderful, she and I explained the attack of the teachers to the principal, who apologized, and finally confessed “our school district is not equipped to teach the most intelligent children.” I said I would look for an alternative school for high school, and the science teacher agreed to take my son under her wings for the rest of my son’s eighth grade school year. Thank goodness for that wonderful science teacher, she was so kind she even waited to move until after my younger child had finished eighth grade science with her. And my daughter was so proud of herself, because she beat her big brother by winning gold at the state Science Fair.

    Yes, the American “mental health professionals” have lost their minds with their unchecked power, and they want to defame and drug even America’s best and brightest students. My son ended up graduating from a boarding school as the valedictorian, and like his grandfather, graduated from university with highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa, as well as winning a psychology award. You should have heard those Psychology professors gush on and on about what an incredible young man my son was at his graduation. Thank God I already had insight into the fraud and insanity of America’s “mental health professionals” in 2009, and I was able to keep my children reasonably safe.

    We need to ban the “mental health professionals” from our schools. They’ve become the “omnipotent moral busy bodies” that C. S. Lewis forewarned us about, despite their DSM deluded belief system not having a shred of scientific validity or reliability. Get them out of the schools.

    • Unfortunately, it’s not just “mental health professionals” serving as drug pushers in our schools. In one IEP meeting I attended, the (not very good) preschool teacher was pushing a mom to put her wiggly little boy on ADHD drugs – the teacher! The mother was very eloquent, saying her older boy had already been placed on drugs and she wanted her younger son – age four – to have more time to develop, sans medications for his “growing brain”.

  4. Of course, if you can get the kid drugged as being mentally ill and are poor, maybe you can sell your kids’ medications instead of getting the kids stoned out. You could unload the speed at a local truck stop. The problem is making sure the kids seem drugged when the piss test times come around, because they’ll have to have that properly dirty urine to “prove” they’re taking their meds- perhaps there are school employees who have that need for speed plus knowledge of the test dates and times.

    • The principal at one school where I was working pointed out a couple who – first – had their daughter “labelled” so they could collect the SSI payment then took her drugs themselves. Talk about a “safety net” for the poor –

  5. If people treat psyche as something human and real, loosing mental health in practice, would not be a synonym of being killed. In many ways, normal people know what they are doing with those with diagnosis. It is disgusting.
    If loosing mental health was a human thing, people would talk about it human way –

    –Och, You, know I am beyond mental health, I feel tired, you know, there are people that understand me, they are not judging me. I have a place to live, among people who, like me, are beyond mental health. I am not feeling well, but I have people who believe me…..”

    Authoritarians likes playing those kind of games. Och, och, we do care about mental health assumptions….And we will kill you if you represent mental illness which we hate.

    For psychiatrists “mental health” game is not something, in which, they could be killed. For them it is not a killing field, like for those on the other side of the desk. It is so easy to use psychiatric diagnosis against someone else who is defenseless…..

    People who represent mental health are not being killed by their own fakes theories. They are using their weapon on others, on those who are defenseless. Those who control are privileged and their clients are their property. Their clients paid them for being their property. James Hillman writes about it –

    “What a client?” by James Hillman
    (“We have hundred years of psychotherapy and the world’s getting worse”)

    “Still it strikes me as little odd that, in their search for another word, healers would beeline straight to the vocabulary of commerce. Looking up “client” in my Merriam -Webster, I think I found the key. The second definition reads:” a person who engages the professional services of another; also: patron, customer”. But dig the definition: “dependent”.

    Lurking in the word they’ve chosen is the dependency that corrupts both sides in the consulting room. Psychotherapy’ clients are customers who, instead of having the usual rights of customers (“the customers are always right”), are dependent on their therapists – therapists who in many cases even have the power to jail or hospitalize them- while the therapists, in turn, are emotionally and financially dependent on the clients who are also their patrons. The contradictory roles of relationship, combined with its legal rules, are byzantine.”

  6. Back in 2012, I helped a disable mother and child. Did my best, and tried to, anyway. The local “agency” was stealing from their SSI checks. Mom had a lot of trouble at her 8yr old daughters school, some of which I witnessed. Aside from some mild birth-defect type physical “disabilities”, -so-called “amniotic band syndrome”, – her daughter was bright, happy, funny, and a joy to be with. And as bratty as any child can be at times, too!
    I sat through a bogus and fraudulent “neglect hearing” in a crooked local court, where the scheme to remove the daughter from her home, was in motion BEFORE the hearing even began! Mom, with my help, had “corrected” the minor points that produced the neglect petition hearing in the first place. But that didn’t matter. A week later, Mom was evicted into homelessness, and her daughter was in “foster care”. The kid ended up in a State-run “youth facility”, then the State Mental Hospital on heavy psych drugs. It still makes me SAD, and SICK to think about it. The general public has no clue what’s REALLY going on. If anything, Jo Ann Cook here is DOWNPLAYING, and MINIMIZING just how truly awful things really are…. THINK about THAT!…. (My GOD!, what is WRONG with YOU people….????….)….

    • Stealing from the “consumers'” already meager checks happens all the time in the Mental Illness Factory. Not supposed to anymore than rape or physical beatings, but it does because no one believes the victims–or at least not till there are a lot of them and a truckload of evidence impossible to ignore or hide.

      Had it happen to me. The old lady running the boarding home I was stuck in stole the $50 a month I needed to buy personal items like shampoo and toothpaste.

      One place in South Bend was so corrupt they not only stole from “consumers” but fudged on government payments too. You don’t steal from Uncle Sam without consequences. They shut Madison Center down. Huzzah! 😀

      (The new place is less corrupt.)

  7. This has been going on since I was in grade school back in the early 00’s. I was misbehaving in school (or refusing to go because I was bored) and I got sent to a child psychiatrist who gave me “good kid medicine” — Trazodone and Paxil — when I was 6. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression.

    I do have to wonder how exactly the medication affected my personality and the entire way that I think. I’ve been pegged with a host of new disorders to follow up the original two: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depersonalization/derealization disorder, Eating Disorders, Avoidant Personality Disorder with Borderline features, Dependent Personality Disorder with Borderline features.

    And those are just the ones I’ve had someone go “Yes, you have that. This is what’s wrong with you. Let me put this in your file.”

    Last summer I accidentally ended up in a psych ward (don’t tell anyone at the ER that you’ve thought about suicide before). In addition to all of those, I was starting to be scouted out for Bipolar Disorder (I started getting asked questions about mania). They also wanted to give me Topamax, which I refused.

    Thankfully, I find out about the effects of antipsychotics before I started taking them. I’ve been prescribed Risperdal and Zyprexa but I don’t want to mess with my mind any more than it has been. I’m on Paxil, Xanax, and Anafranil — all three with their own fun withdrawal experiences.

    Sometimes I wonder if I’m the crazy one or if I’m the only sane one.

    Thank you for reading my ramble. I’ve been following this website for a time (Since I first found “Mad in America” at my college’s library), but haven’t posted until today.

  8. Jo Ann, Thank you for getting this troubling information out. This is so egregious I can hardly wrap my brain around it. Shame on the media for aiding this criminal activity when they should be exposing it for what it REALLY is. Thank you for your integrity and efforts to enlighten parents and try protect children.