Girl Guides of Canada’s Mighty Minds Program: Based on Biased Sources

Girl Guides of Canada, a hundred-year-old organization, that strives to make a positive difference in the lives of all girls, from ages 5 to 17, recently adopted a so-called “mental health” program, called Mighty Minds, to teach girl guides how to develop mental health skills and address the stigma that exists around mental health and mental illness in society.

The program was developed by two influential non-profit organizations, the Psychology Foundation of Canada and Kids Help Phone. Their supporters include large corporations, such as Nestle, BMO, AGF, Heathbridge Capital
Management, Empire Life, Invicta Investments, the Ontario Psychological Association and others.

It is a shocking development. Recent findings indicate that powerful pharmaceutical companies are pushing “mental health” drugs on vulnerable children and adolescents by way of non-profit groups. They know that it is relatively simple to introduce new concepts or products to children, who often cannot tell the difference between advertising and fact, particularly, when the promotion is delivered by trusted non-profit and community based organizations.

Girl guide administrators may have been manipulated by the false promise that the Mighty Minds program benefits girls because they “consistently report more negative emotional health than boys”. Neither Kids Help Phone nor the Psychology Foundation of Canada mentioned that there were serious concerns that drug companies developed an aggressive game plan to redefine the concepts of health and sickness and target women and girls with their products.

According to a 2005 study on The Marketization of Depression: Prescribing SSRI Antidepressants to Women, by Janet Currie for the Canadian Women’s Health Network, the drug industry, as part of their strategy, targeted women and girls in newspapers and women’s magazines, telling them that emotional reactions to normal life events were biologically-based mental disorders, which could be treated successfully with pills.

Drug company representatives aggressively lobbied doctors to promote the message that more women needed to be treated for depression and other disorders. The strategy worked. Research shows that women were twice as likely to be given a psychiatric drug compared to men, including antidepressants. The astronomical rise in drug use came with serious repercussions, with more psychiatric adverse events, hospitalizations, and deaths than a placebo drug.

Similar studies on the effects of psychiatric drug use in children indicate that irritability, depression, mania and bipolar disorder are potential side effects of medications, commonly prescribed for “mental health” problems, like anxiety and depression. The majority of these studies have been conveniently suppressed by the drug industry. They don’t sell drugs.

The use of non-profit organizations is a favorite tactic of drug companies and their alliances to increase drug sales and other medical services. The strategy is aptly described by pharmaceutical executive, Josh Weinstein, in the article Public Relations: Why Advocacy Beats DTC (Direct-to-Consumer Advertising). According to Weinstein, we have all learned in Marketing 101 that using a group of physicians or advocacy groups “figures prominently in any sales strategy”.

A key feature of any advertising campaign is the use of hyperbole, misleading, false or unproven statements to claim that a product, practice or educational program has a benefit when there is no scientific evidence that it does. The Mighty Minds program does just that.

It begins by telling guide leaders that “mental illness is generally believed to be caused by a variety of factors interacting together, such as genetics, environmental stressors, exposure to potentially harmful substances before birth and brain chemistry”. Note the deceptive suggestion that mental illness is “generally caused’ by “genetics” or “brain chemistry”. This is misleading, not scientific or evidence-based.

Throughout the program’s exercises, girl guide members are lead to believe that their life problems, sadness, anger, grief, are not normal reactions, and they need help. The help, though not explicitly stated, is a referral to a health professional, often a diagnosis and a prescription for psychiatric medication, which comes with dangerous side effects.

It is hard to believe that Girl Guide administrators have been taken in by groups that are marketing pseudoscientific mental disorders to children in order to increase sales of drug company products. If they are not convinced, can they explain why there are more than nine million children in North America on psychiatric drugs and this industry is calling for more children to be treated for mental disorders with drugs, which have a dismal safety record?

According to the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2013, there is no symptom specificity, genetic, physiological, biological tests, x-rays or other biological markers for any mental disorder.

Moreover, the National Institute of Mental Health adopted the view that genes and neural circuitry defects are not specific to mental disorders. Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health and other experts have complained that mental health diagnoses are based on a cluster of clinical symptoms, and not on any objective laboratory measure.

Similarly, Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus at Duke University and chair of the DSM 4 task force on mental disorders, recently stated that “there is no definition of a mental disorder, you just can’t define it.”

The biggest concern according to Dr. Allen Frances, is that the introduction of “new high prevalence disorders at the boundary with normality” may create “millions of newly mislabelled patients with resulting unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment, stigma, and wasteful misallocation of scarce resources.”

The World Health Organization emphasizes the special importance of understanding the environment of the child and the adolescent, that is the family, community and nation, and that disorders cannot be seen as static, diagnostic labels, but rather must be seen as dynamic responses to social/environmental stressors, such as exposure to conflict, economic and psychological adversity and to the perception of the child and adolescent in a given society.

Instead of helping girls to feel confident and resourceful, girl guides are learning from the Mighty Mind’s program that the stress and anxiety in normal life is a disorder rather than learning that they can be active partners in solving their own life challenges, as well as acting for a better world for others.

Girl guide members need to receive evidence-based information about drug company manipulation, gender and income disparities, harassment and violence toward women and children, not the deceptive Mighty Minds program with its hidden biases.

Parents need to speak out about the exploitation of their daughters.