Reforming Schools to Prevent Mental Health Issues


A new study, published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, stresses the importance of embedding resiliency training into school-integrated programs to prevent mental health issues in adolescents. It is estimated that roughly half of all adults diagnosed with psychiatric disorders begin experiencing symptoms before the age of 14. In response, researchers are calling for school-based programs that increase protective factors in adolescence and serve as a preventative intervention.

“Mental health problems impact on an adolescent’s potential to live a fulfilling and productive life and lead to challenges such as stigma, isolation, and discrimination. To address this need, in recent years, there has been growing interest in broad-based school-integrated health promotion interventions that seek to build resilience and augment protective factors in adolescents,” the researchers, led by Supakyada Sapthiang at the University of Essex, write.

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Adolescence represents a vulnerable period of development, and it is estimated 10-20% of adolescents worldwide (aged 10-18) experience symptoms of mental distress that could be diagnosed as a mental disorder in a given year.  However, experts cautioned against taking a purely medical approach to this issue by screening for mental disorders in school or turning to medication as a first-line intervention medicalizing adolescence (see here and here). As an alternative, researchers are calling for school-based programs to instill protective factors into general education settings.

“Key determinants of mental illness in adolescents include (but are not limited to) low socioeconomic status, social isolation, exposure to violence and lack of peer or family support. However, the impact of such determinants can be mitigated by protective factors such as family and community cohesion, pro-social behavior and social connectedness, support from schools and mental health services (including social services), and the community’s engagement with local and national health promotion schemes,” Sapthiang and colleagues write.

In their article, Sapthiang and colleagues investigate the utility of a school-level Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI). MBIs are ‘on par’ with psychopharmaceutical interventions but originate from a ‘true understanding’ approach that avoids medicalizing normal reactions, thoughts, and behaviors. These interventions identify the systems and environments people find themselves in as the location of pathology and seek to change it.

“Support for the implementation of broad-based resilience-building approaches in adolescents derives from psychological models such as problem behavior theory and ontological addiction theory,” explain the researchers. “These models assert that a given problematic behavior or mental illness symptom is invariably an indicator of a more systemic maladaptive belief or unmet psychosocial need, which can manifest across multiple risk-taking behaviors or psychopathologies.”

However, several barriers exist for broad-based school-integrated mindfulness programs. Sapthiang and colleagues emphasize paying attention to intervention design, delivery, and evaluation. The authors recommend using age-appropriate metaphors to explain novel concepts, creating spaces in school appropriate for MBIs, and ensuring course leaders are adequately trained in the practice.

“It appears that a key mechanism of action of mindfulness is to create ‘mental breathing space’ such that adolescents can not only start to observe their thoughts and feelings but can also learn to remain ‘unattached’ to them by relating to them as ‘passing phenomena,” they write. “In turn, this greater awareness and perceptual distance from thoughts, feelings, and sensory processes foster a greater capacity to regulate emotions during the developmentally demanding period of adolescence.”

More research is needed to implement such interventions in school settings. As more is learned about the most effective ways of integrating these tools into schools, researchers are continuing to forward the idea of treating mental health preventatively rather than reactively.

“In line with the prevention paradox principle, there is a growing interest in broad-based school-integrated health promotion interventions that seek to target a range of resiliency and protective factors in adolescents. Mindfulness reflects one such resilience-building approach that has been shown to be efficacious in adolescent research studies for cultivating a range of psychological adjustment and coping strategies, as well as directly treating adolescent psychopathology.”



Sapthiang, S., Van Gordon, W., & Shonin, E. (2019). Mindfulness in schools: a health promotion approach to improving adolescent mental health. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction17(1), 112-119. (Link)


  1. Teaching mindfulness in school as an approach to emotional distress caused by environmental factors such as poverty and family dysfunction has got to be the most utterly shameful, do-nothing approach that I’ve ever heard and the fact that it’s gaining steam is mind-boggling.

    The term McMindfulness has been used to describe the mindfulness trend and it seem appropriate here. It’s difficult to read the promotion of yet another method of changing the distressed child instead of fighting back against the causes of psychosocial distress. School is a major source of distress for many children. And the adults are clearly aware of contributing stressors such as poverty, hunger, housing insecurity, family violence, and community discord, so the response to merely teach children coping skills is rather disheartening. I have to wonder why, when reporting on such plans, there isn’t more of an effort made to point out the flaws of these bandaid solutions and demand better for our kids.

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    • If I really wanted to reform schools to improve what they metaphorically and euphemistically refer to as the children’s “mental health,” they could start by reforming the authoritarian nature of the student-teacher relationship and give the students more control and some genuine recourse when they have been wronged by the staff or other students. There are any number of “democratic schools” around the country and the world, starting with Summerhill way back in the early 1900s. At Summerhill, students got to choose what classes they attended, including not attending any class at all. And yet the students chose to attend classes most of the time and would ask kids who were not serious about studying to leave. They made their own rules and had their own justice system for kids AND adults who might have transgressed the school’s agreed laws. The students and staff all got one vote at the meetings, and staff were frequently overruled in their suggestions. This is the kind of approach that is needed if we want our students to be “mentally healthy” – an environment where they are trusted, where they have responsibility and control, where they are able to protect themselves from abusive or coercive behavior of others, where adults are there to help the students pursue their own goals instead of forcing the students to pursue the adults’ goals. Most adults are horrified by such an arrangement and believe that students will never learn anything unless they are forced and coerced and punished into compliance. This is because our culture hates and disrespects children, and most of adult “mental illness” starts from the disrespect and mistreatment of children as they grow up.

      It is laughable in my view for schools to talk about improving students’ “mental health” when the reality is that schools do a huge amount of mental/emotional damage to our kids that many never recover from.

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      • Hear, hear!

        I’m a huge fan of Summerhill, and of the current “Wild and Free” movement in childraising and homeschooling.

        However, it’s all just another symptom of the dysfunction of capitalism. All it needs is obedient workers. It surely doesn’t want you to think or question or protest. School is the method used to prepare the population en masse to accept the exploitative labor practices they will be subjected to under the rule of the top .01%.

        In addition to that, school is also where American patriotism is force fed to young children so they will be conditioned to accept the massive war state and it’s attendant costs to the taxpayer going largely to private military contractors.

        School (whether public or private) is very, very important to the continued running of the system.

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        • Yeah, Kindred, I agree. I have had to endure the pushing of the Pledge of Allegiance. I am honestly afraid my job status would be affected if anyone found out I don’t say the Pledge. Kids are taught to obey, obey, obey, without questioning, and if they dare say anything they get a note sent home, or detention.

          Here is an example of what they do. One day, I had taught a class that worked out very well. Afterward, the teachers want the kids to line up to leave the classroom obediently and silently. I totally hate this ritual, but I have to go along with it. So that day, the kids lined up, and suddenly, one little girl broke out of the line and ran back to me to give me a big hug. I was so touched by this. Guess what happened? She got shamed, demeaned, and sent to the end of the line. That was the day I realized I need to cut down on my hours. I’m tired of feeling on the verge of tears over these human rights infractions. I also realize that I can’t fight it as a minority voice. There’s too much hierarchy to fight.

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          • Julie, I spent a lot of time in detention. I’m very proud of that now. I stood up for something – for myself and others.

            When I was attacked and hit in the head by two boys the day I returned to school after major head surgery, not only did the teacher not care about punishing the boys that attacked me, I got punished with detention for cursing while describing what they did to me. The lesson learned of course is that it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters what you can get away with – not exactly the ethical lesson the adults should be aiming for… But it’s the one they’re teaching kids nonetheless. Adults are the reason bullying is still so pervasive in schools. It’s the adult hierarchy the children are learning and emulating.

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          • Tread carefully, Julie. I won’t go into all that I witnessed and experienced in my two years in the school system. I went in with extreme idealism and the desire to inculcate love of learning, exploration, and curiosity, but what I found was gaslighting and abusive principals, rigid teach-to-the-test mentality, and basically it parallels the corruption in the “mental health” industry. Teachers are demoralized because they do not have autonomy, are treated like dirt and of course, the students are in essence, like the teachers, being abused. There is a website called that a former co-worker started with another previous teacher awhile back, that provides some interesting reading. I always worry when I hear that someone is thinking about going into teaching. It isn’t what you think it is, especially if you are older and you think it’s going to be like the experience you had in school.

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          • The school system, I might add, is what sent me into the “caring arms” of the “mental health’ industry where I got labeled with GAD, MDD, Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorder. I am awaiting a call from the clinical coordinator of this clinic as I am requesting that these “diagnoses” be removed from my records. If MIA will accept my paper, I may write about my experience. When I got the therapist notes (actually he was an intern, but he didn’t tell me that) I found lie after lie. Needing a billable diagnosis he said I had symptoms that I didn’t have to justify it – likely to be covered in case of an insurance audit. He wrote that I’m experiencing fatigue and difficulty concentrating. In reality, I’m exercising every day for at least an hour and have a very high energy level, read voraciously and have no issues at all with concentration. But these are stated as problems I’m having – total lies- used as justification for the MDD diagnosis to bill insurance. I may not succeed in getting these “diagnoses” removed, but I intend to confront them with all the research I have gathered about psychiatric diagnosis, it’s scientific invalidity, their failure to inform me from the start that using insurance requires a “diagnosis”, its harms, etc. And to think of the intrusion of the “mental health” industry into the schools is appalling and very frightening.

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          • Wayfarer, I would suggest getting as far away from that clinician as possible. And get away from any hospital that has your records, or any hospital or medical group that has access to your records.

            Just don’t act depressed, not in public. That should do it. And don’t ever see a shrink again.

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          • So this is what happened a few days ago. I was teaching a class and some of the kids were doing stuff that was going to lead to trouble. By trouble I mean someone was going to get injured if they continued. I tried to solve this by getting the kids interested in doing something else. This worked, for the most part, as I saw the kids scurrying away from where they were to another part of the room. Unfortunately, the aide then started yelling at them and using shaming language.

            Kids react differently to this type of adult bullying. Some will just disregard it. One boy, though, was particularly hurt because he was called “bad” and a bunch of other things.

            He was so upset, he sobbed and curled into a ball. I was amazed that the aide was so clueless about what had just happened. For most of the class she was sitting way off to the side, with some papers in front of her that she appeared to be reading, but more likely, the papers were hiding her cellular telephone.

            I don’t know why she chose that moment to yell at the kids, but it was startling and deeply disturbing. As far as I can tell, this is normal, daily life at the average school, and this is the way kids are treated there.

            Although I tried to comfort the child, I knew I was rather ineffective at doing so. After all, I was a scary adult. The cool thing is that another child came and sat next to him and stayed with him until he was okay. The other child was an ally. Adults are the threat.

            Anyone who speaks out against the status quo, whether an employee or a child, or even a parent, is going to be ostracized. And the wheels keep turning. How can we stop this madness?

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          • The following happened to me in first grade. We were at recess. The teacher asked us to line up in a line. We did. I did not like standing there in the cold. I got colder and colder, in fact, and I figured I wasn’t the only one. Finally, the teacher said we’d better be good or we wouldn’t get to stay outside.

            Everyone was silent then. I said, likely quite audibly, “But we don’t want to stay outside. It’s too cold.”

            In a flash, the teacher, likely a recess monitor, was right beside me. She told me I was a “bad girl” and told me I should be ashamed of myself. She grabbed me by the scruff of my jacket and dragged me to the end of line, saying I deserved it.

            It wasn’t so much that single action, but what it symbolized to me at that very moment. School was no longer my friend. It was a scary, hostile place. And that it stayed.

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          • That was my experience as well. I remember being a safety patrol and having to keep the kids outside the building when it was 20 degrees out while the teachers walked around inside drinking coffee in their comfy sweaters. I think that was the first time it really struck me clearly just how systematically abusive the system was.

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        • What you assert, KS, is absolutely true. This became crystal clear to me in 8th grade. We were staying with friends of my mother. Their son, labeled a juvenile delinquent, did not attend school but was instead on a program of home instruction. Once a week, a teacher would deliver a packet of worksheet assignments and collect the ones from the previous week. I looked over the packet and it was 100% pro-military propaganda designed to steer him into enlistment. I was disgusted by it, and so was the target pupil.

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          • I tried to add something to the previous comment but the system timed me out. I just went to a mental health clinic and saw a counselor in training. I was not hospitalized. They did not even suggest drugs. I thought some nice people there would help me sort out a bad experience and help me move on. But their requirement to diagnose for insurance dollars meant a normal reaction to a bad experience must be pathologized and diagnoses that would pass the “medical necessity” test must be dished out. It’s a racket and very harmful. They have too much power and people’s rights are being trampled on. It is unfortunate that most people are unaware how the system works and do not know what they are walking into. It is not just getting some counseling, it’s a surrendering of your rights and you don’t even know that is happening, because they are not forthcoming. Somehow people need to be made more aware of how harmful the “mental health” system is. The truth is people experience anguish, periods of despair, times of anxiety when everything is turned upside down, and massive changes come about, but this is not “mental illness”. It is the human condition. Our society is sick with screwed up values and people can at times find themselves in untenable situations. The “mental health” system we have today is not the answer. It is part of the problem. We need an entire transformation of society, I believe.

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      • To prove the point:- When I was at school in Ireland, English was the 98% Official Language. Irish (Gaelic) was also taught and promoted at school for 12 years up to the school leaving age of 16. But the majority of students, after 12 years of schooling, were not up to standard in the language.

        But any child can learn a language naturally in 6 months.

        When I was at school (as an incentive) a good pass in Irish in the final exams was worth 2 credits which would guarantee a person entry into University. And anybody up to standard in Irish taking the final exams was more or less guaranteed this.

        (But the students were still incapable of learning the language through the school system).

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      • Don’t forget about the school cafeteria. Removing the junk food is likely to lead to fewer behavioral episodes and afternoon snoozers driving your teaching staff crazy, as well as providing a better internal attitude to learning for the students.

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  2. Having worked in public schools as a teacher, the idea that what is needed is mindfulness programs is laughable. The real reforms needed are related to abolishing the draconian, oppressive mandates created by politicians that have made schools soul-crushing for both students and teachers. It’s like saying we’ll whip you during the day, but in-between we’ll give you mindfulness sessions to help you forget about the abuse we are daily meting out.

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  3. “Reforming Schools to Prevent Mental Health Issues” is a good idea. However, all your talk about more “mental health” interventions within our schools is a really bad idea. You scientific fraud based “mental health” workers have already created a completely iatrogenic “childhood bipolar epidemic,” by systemically misdiagnosing the adverse effects of the ADHD drugs and antidepressants as “bipolar” in over a million innocent children, children that you also stigmatized. In other words, defamed.

    “… the impact of such determinants can be mitigated by protective factors such as family and community cohesion, pro-social behavior and social connectedness, support from schools and mental health services (including social services), and the community’s engagement with local and national health promotion schemes….”

    “Definition of scheme (Entry 1 of 2)
    1 : a plan or program of action
    especially : a crafty or secret one”

    All the “mental health” interventions have turned out to be “crafty or secret ones” that harm people, and our children. I think the “crafty and secret” “mental health” workers, most of whom are now claiming to be ignorant, should get out of our schools. Especially since they see nothing strange about a child who tested into a “school for gifted children,” leaving that school, and entering the public school system in remedial reading. Other than that his legitimately concerned mother needed to be neurotoxic poisoned.

    But our school social workers do have a big problem with a child abuse survivor, healing from child abuse that occurred at a very young age, and going from remedial reading, after the child abuse, to getting 100% on his state standardized tests in eighth grade. This is when our school social workers desperately want to get their grubby little hands on the best and brightest American children.

    Thankfully, I found a science teacher who had a brain in her head, and had heard of genetics. But trying to murder the best and brightest of the American children is, I know from personal experience, who and what the school social workers are all about. An idiot psychologist even confessed to me later, yes, maintaining the satanic systems that currently exist is the goal of all the “mental health” workers.

    All of you DSM deluded “mental health” workers need to get out of our schools. You’re the “omni-potent moral busy bodies,” for the globalist pedophile banksters’ “pedophile empire,” about whom C. S. Lewis forewarned us. Wake up, deluded “mental health” workers! You’re on the wrong side.

    The never ending war mongering and profiteering, fiscally irresponsible, bailout needing, “banks steal $trillions in houses,” WRONG bankers have been in charge of America for way too long. And they financed, and orchestrated, your miseducation, “mental health” workers.

    Oh, you “mental health” workers know nothing about banking, other than you worship the money created out of nothing, by these globalist banksters. Here’s a mild introduction. Please do your research, prior to trying to act as judge, jury, and executioner to any more non-war mongering and profiteering, non-bailout needing, non – $trillions in houses stealing, ethical American banking families, who had helped to make America great.

    Wake up, “mental health” workers. And get the heck out of our schools. You’re always claiming “More research is needed,” because you have no clue what you’re doing.

    “It appears that a key mechanism of action of mindfulness is to create ‘mental breathing space’ such that adolescents can not only start to observe their thoughts and feelings but can also learn to remain ‘unattached’ to them by relating to them as ‘passing phenomena ….”

    Bad idea, being honest about injustices is a much better idea, if healing is actually the goal. And my child did heal, he ended up graduating Phi Beta Kappa (with highest honors) from university, and also winning a psychology award. Possibly because I kept him away from you “mental health” lunatics, dealt with him honestly, once the medical evidence of the abuse of him was handed over. While you “mental health” workers, who wanted to drug him up for life, and claim him to have a “lifelong, incurable, genetic” illness behaved as lunatics. And you child rape covering up “mental health” lunatics still have delusions that denying reality is a good idea. It’s not.

    Despite the reality that none of your DSM disorders actually are “lifelong, incurable, genetic mental illnesses.” To the contrary, the DSM disorders are not life long diseases, they are not incurable diseases, they are iatrogenic illnesses, created with the psychiatric drugs. And they are “invalid” and “bullshit” diseases as well, even according to the leaders of your industry.

    Even your “sacred symbol of psychiatry” is an iatrogenic illness, created with your “gold standard” neuroleptic/antipsychotic treatments. Wake up, and get the f-ck out of our schools, because your entire, primarily child rape covering up industry, is based upon fraud and lies. And you have no clue what kind of damage you are doing to our children. Get out of our schools, delusional “mental health” and “social workers,” who can’t even ever bill any insurance company for ever helping any child abuse survivor ever, according to your own scientifically debunked DSM “bible.”

    Get out of our schools, child rape covering up and profiteering, “mental health” lunatics.

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  4. Mindfulness? Huh? I agree with Steve. I work in the schools. They are oppressive to kids. Take high school for example. My kids have to be there at 7:30 in the morning. If they’re late, even by a minute, they’re punished. They have only three minutes to get from class to class.

    When I was hired I was given the spiel about inclusiveness. We were given extensive training on how to report child abuse. This was supposed to include abuse by school personnel, yet when I made a report to the state, my supervisor demeaned me and said I should not have done it.

    I have seen instances where teachers, who are hired and paid to teach, aren’t teaching. I don’t understand how, on a moral level, these teachers can live with themselves. The kids are at a loss. They deserve an education. They didn’t come to school to be babysat, supervised, bossed around, and threatened.

    When I get to teach, when I get to stand up in front of the class, I give examples of how voicing one’s concerns can make huge changes, even if you are a minor. I have said so many times, “You matter.” But at the same time, I realize that for many of these kids, they have spoken out plenty, but often they are not being heard.

    They still matter, though. I tell them not to give up.

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  5. I think the McMinfulness movement is about pulling Mindfulness down. I notice a lot of ‘catch phrases’ are used repeatedly, even though I doubt the people using them know what they mean.

    Most of the ‘SMI’ recovery stories I’ve seen on MIA have the spiritual side of ‘Meditation’ included in them.

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    • You can count my “recovery” story as not including anything to do with mindfulness, yoga, or mediation. I hate it when people push that stuff on others. It’s an offense similar to religious proselytizing. I hate it when people who meditate have an air of superiority, too.

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  6. In July 2018, New York State passed a “mental health act“ mandating all students in elementary and secondary schools be taught a “mental health” curriculum.

    Most American states and provinces in Canada have for years directed teachers and support staff (social workers, psychologists) to adopt new ways of thinking about the emotional and behavioral problems of students, now called “mental health problems or disorders”. Over a five year period beginning in 2009, teachers and staff in my province of Ontario were force fed “mental health” propaganda repeatedly in weekly meetings, workshops etc. and asked to target and seek out students with suspected “mental disorders” and refer them for treatments from community services and psychiatric units in hospitals, which operated under a DSM criteria.

    Now students are being force fed “mental health” nonsense about “mental disorders” and the need for psychiatric drug treatments to become successful healthy adults. Programs such as mindfulness, Friends program, Collaborative Problem Solving, feelings awareness groups etc. are used to mask the real intent of “mental health” awareness which is to label students with “mental disorders” and promote psychiatric drugs. Students are even told their daily problems are due to faulty wiring in their brains yet no one appears to be calling out this most harmful heresy.

    This massive deception is being carried out by industry and government working together. Workers in the schools have no choice but to resign if they do not comply. .After 25 years in my school board, I could not find one other school person who was willing to challenge this abusive practice.

    Why are consumer advocates not speaking out against drugs and services being promoted to children inside our classrooms?

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  7. This is a long lasting and complex issue on how to help our young thrive and now there is a mighty question of surviving in and of itself.
    The whole history of education from the schools formed by Puritans in New England to the luck of rich young females in Western Europe to use their father’s library books in self education.
    And then to indigenous cultures ways of youth.
    A family relative taught in the Open Air School time which came out of a public school system trying to work with public health issues of immigrants. The crisis there was TB. Students who were at risk for this disease could? or made ? to go to a school that had a physician and nurse who did home visits. The health food of the day was used – graham crackers and cream cheese- go figure. Class sizes were around 50 with the whole spectrum of abilities.
    And then in contrast look at top tier boarding schools – some things detailed in Dicken’s David Cooperfield still linger.
    The Roman Catholic boarding schools for both the rich and the disabled were at times extremely abusive or merely quite unpleasant. Much less the American movement of child separation on the Reservations. And then the slave system and Jim Crow Times with learning to read or write being a possible death sentence.
    The best mindfulness program I participated in was a UU based Sanga.
    We met twice a week with two sitting sessions and walking session in between and then a short discussion time.
    Unfortunately the church also supported NAMI and had an extremely active group and I didn’t realize when I joined.. Oh well.
    So many systems that try or are perceived as helping children are messed up and entangled with corruption and financial strife.
    This hurts not only the children but those employees who are wanting to help and those that are gifted helpers. They and the kids are caught in a bad dream not of their own making.

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  8. Stigma huh? I experienced stigma in school. Let’s create more by showing other kids how very special I am, and that I cannot help how disordered I am and teach all the other little sheep how to be kind to me. Then bring me into the psychologist’s room who knows when drugs should be used and knows about CBT and MT and talks to me in words that sound alien and make me feel much worse, because I am unable to understand and articulate why I do not like school, why I am shy and avoidant. In fact I know so little that I don’t know if I like school, I just know that all what is happening to me is all so very wrong, I know that they are taking a lunatic approach, yet I have no voice. You tell me I should talk, you try to find out my ‘problem’, yet even if I knew, even if I talked, it never was about me at all, it was about some kind of made up ideology. You looked at me as ‘wrong’. You also looked at religious theory and religious doctrine being taught in schools as wrong, but you replaced one lunacy for another, yet pointing the finger at me as disordered. Not for one second do you consider that perhaps there is something that went wrong in how this one disordered kid does not fit into the molds created by family, and society itself. You cannot leave kids to psychiatry, it is the biggest sham ever. To know that a child is not thriving or happy is one thing, to introduce practices that are so very harmful in so many ways is criminal. Kids are so vulnerable, leave their little minds alone, unless you can give them consistent environments where they do not feel different, where they achieve little victories, and can learn pride in who they are.

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