Epidemic or Dangerous Trend? What Parents Need to Know about Mental Health Treatments

“My studies of child abuse and neglect led me to conclude that the abuse inflicted upon children by society exceeded in scope their abuse and neglect by parents.”

David Gil

In 2009, after working for twenty years as a social work consultant in the special education department of a large metropolitan school board in Canada, I was advised at a staff meeting that approximately twenty per cent of children and youth were suffering from mental health problems. I was skeptical. Our school board had never previously referred to students in these terms.

At the time, I was concerned about the increasing use of behavior and mind-altering psychiatric drugs in children and adolescents within the school system. Ritalin and other ADHD drugs began to surface in the nineties, followed by antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs in the early 2000’s.

Teachers widely promoted these medications and claimed that they helped students do better socially and academically. These beliefs were completely at odds with long-established theories on the stages of normal child development, the importance of social factors in both behavior and educational outcomes and the results of independent pediatric clinical trials which showed there were more harms than benefits.

Now, I was told that the government supported drugging children. YES, the GOVERNMENT. The government not only mandated “mental health” training for all teachers and administrative staff but developed comprehensive action plans and targets to identify students who were suspected of having mental disorders, and directed school professionals and teachers to connect these students to community mental health services, such as pediatricians and hospital psychiatrists. It was an unconscionable act against vulnerable children.

My day-to-day involvement with students at all levels and ongoing examination of their school progress in classrooms, report cards, psychological and medical reports, clearly demonstrated that students who were medicated with psychiatric drugs often developed disturbing behaviors and explosive outbursts, which lead to disability and school failure. My complaints to professional associations and local and federal politicians fell on deaf ears.

Over the next six years, teachers received frequent information sessions and workshops on mental health. One training manual for teachers, written by an influential psychiatrist with multiple ties to the pharmaceutical industry, included the absurd and unproven claim that “when a brain gets sick, the neurochemical messengers that help the different parts of the brain communicate are not working well, that these disorders are not the fault of poor parenting, bad behavior, or poverty and need to be dealt with by mental health professionals.”

Another more comprehensive government document, called Supporting Minds, emphasizes the important role of teachers in helping students with mental health issues. The 150-page instruction booklet describes the different mental disorders, such as major depressive disorder, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders, the causes, the typical signs of illness, what teachers can do and what services and programs are helpful for students.

According to the various mental health training manuals and documents, research indicates that such things as problems in the brain, such as the brain’s early development, genetic influences and chemical imbalances all contribute to mental health problems. Yet, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used to classify and diagnose disorders in children and youth, explicitly states that there are no biological or physical causes for any of the disorders. Further, there is no evidence that psychiatric drugs are treating or correcting any pathology in the brain.

Why were teachers learning to identify pseudo-scientific disorders and refer suspected students to doctors for medical treatment?
It was an incredulous development. Teachers were also expected to pass these faulty theories on to their students in health classes, with parents in forum discussions and encourage student participation in a variety of initiatives to reduce stigma and promote the benefits of mental health treatments.

This indefensible trend was accepted by the majority of community health professionals and physicians, who readily endorsed these medical practices. They justified the practice of using harmful drugs on children, as scientifically-based necessities, and helped to organize walk-in clinics and other programs to persuade parents that their children needed psychiatric services and pharmaceutical products.

In my book, Making Healthy Children Sick, I examine the origins of this destructive mental health trend; how schools are used as tools by drug companies and their corporate alliances to market harmful drugs to children; the lack of any scientific basis for this trend; how Big Pharma and greed corrupted doctors; the role of advertising and consumerism; the symbiotic relationship between government and industry; and what parents and consumers can do to protect all children from the latest corporate assault on youth.

A Drug Marketer’s Best Friend

It became clear from my investigation that schools play an extremely significant role in the expansion of pharmaceutical products and mental health services to children. Marketers know that it is relatively simple to influence children and school systems are where you can develop and grow a life-long customer base for products and services.

The notion that children were sick with brain diseases and needed to be identified in schools, where children spend most of their time, was deceptively introduced to the public in a first-ever White House conference on mental health in 1999. The president, Bill Clinton, and his Surgeon General David Satcher, gave tacit approval to the belief that children were suffering in record numbers and that the use of psychiatric medications was indispensable in fixing their disordered brains.

Clinton and his aids promoted a training program in the nation’s schools to help teachers identify troubled students and get them psychiatric help. There was not a shred of evidence that children were suffering from faulty brain neurotransmitters. Yet, the Clinton government’s promotion, backed by the pharmaceutical industry and powerful industry allies, fueled a false epidemic in mental disorders in children and adolescents in the United States.

By 2017, more than nine million children in North America were on psychiatric drugs for newly found disorders, such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, Autism, bipolar disorder and even school avoidance disorder. Many were identified within the school system.

Other countries, such as Canada, Australia and the UK followed suit. Convincing government leaders that millions of children were sick with mental disorders and need “lifesaving” mental health treatments which are best identified by teachers in schools, was an easy game. In fact, government and industry leaders were buoyed by the economic benefits that would occur from the creation of jobs, funds and new community organizations, as well as the millions of profits for the multi-billion-dollar brain drug industry.

It was the kind of consumer marketing strategy that corporations, like Coca Cola or McDonald’s, can only dream of.

Independent clinical trials, free of drug company influence, have repeatedly shown that psychiatric medications are ineffective, unsafe and harmful to developing brains and bodies; and can cause severe anxiety, disturbed thinking, aggression, metabolic disturbances, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, even death.

These risks are never disclosed to the public. They don’t sell drugs.

Institutional Child Abuse

Jordan, a grade 10 student, was referred to his school’s professional support team for non-attendance issues. His story of injury is just one of many among the millions of children, who are told that they are sick and need medication by the adults and professionals, who have the responsibility to protect children from harm.

His school records indicated that Jordan, at the age of four was a bright and independent child. He was from a loving two parent family. Upon entering kindergarten in 2001, his teachers observed that he was precocious, but wilful and challenging, in terms of limits placed on his behavior, behaviors that are normal in many parts of the world.

The school advised Jordan’s parents to seek a medical assessment. A community psychologist reported that Jordan was indeed bright but he would benefit from a clear, consistent structure. There was no sign that Jordan was anything other than a normal, healthy child at this time.

By grade 3, Jordan was reportedly having difficulty managing class routines. He seemed overly concerned with getting the correct answer and often refused to complete his work. The school again asked his parents to get an assessment from a doctor.

It was now early 2006, and there had been a dramatic change in the way that community professionals and doctors viewed childhood behaviors. A local hospital clinic promoted the view that 13 per cent of children and youth were suffering from anxiety disorders, with more girls receiving the diagnosis. The normal fears of children were transformed from a normal, developmental stage to a mental disorder needing medication.

A second psychological assessment at age eight reported Jordan was very bright, almost gifted, but appeared to be fearful of making mistakes. The parents were encouraged to help Jordan use positive coping statements. The psychologist persuaded Jordan’s parents to agree to a referral from the family’s doctor to a mood/anxiety clinic at a nearby hospital, believing that medication might benefit Jordan.

In 2008, after a medical assessment at a mood/anxiety clinic, Jordan, now ten, was prescribed Prozac by a psychiatrist, who was considered to be an expert in mood disorders in children. Instead of getting better, Jordan’s behavior deteriorated dramatically. He became aggressive, easily angered, was considered a danger to others, and made significant threats to his parents and siblings.

At age twelve, he was hospitalized in a youth psychiatric unit for four weeks after threatening to kill himself and acting aggressively toward family members. The unit psychiatrist diagnosed Jordan with generalized anxiety disorder and Asperger’s disorder. He was prescribed two new medications, Celexa, an antidepressant, and Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug and released. He was followed by his family physician as an outpatient.

Industry supporters would like to believe that the medical treatment that Jordan received led to successful academic outcomes and a hopeful future. This did not happen. He became extremely fearful, withdrawn and did not want to attend school. In grade nine, he attended twenty per cent of the time. By grade ten he was no longer attending school.

Children at Risk

Much of what is occurring with respect to what governments and their partners in the mental health industry are doing in schools is not always crystal clear or easy to detect.

Unsuspecting parents are manipulated through deceptive advertising schemes to believe “any child, regardless of age or circumstance can experience mental health issues”, “treatment works”, “treatment saves lives”, “end the stigma” and “left untreated these kids suffer needlessly.” Social skills programs for students, such as learning to deal with stress and anxiety appear helpful and supportive.

In reality, they are examples of deceptive marketing and false representations which mask the mental health industry’s real intent. Behind the scenes, there are ongoing efforts to identify and diagnose the one in five children and youth, who are considered by the industry to have a mental health problem. The health risks of psychiatric drug treatments are seldom, if ever, mentioned.

Many may be dismayed to learn that schools, which have long been considered as safe places for learning the 3 R’s, have been transformed into “hubs for the early diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in children” and as commercial opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry and their alliances to promote their products to impressionable children.

Our society is once again engaged in practices that are extremely exploitative and harmful to children. The public trusts teachers, community professionals and doctors and believes that they are acting in the best interests of children. This is not the case.

Violations that occur are ignored, denied or covered up when powerless children complain and become sick. Instead of providing children with better health, social and economic supports that provide a better future, children are lied to, told they have a brain disorder and need pharmaceutical drugs to fix their defects.

If we are to protect children from abuse, exploitation and harmful substances, and their right to informed healthcare and equity in education, the public needs to be informed of this scandalous development and denounce these abusive practices against children.

Parents, beware of teachers and health professionals peddling harmful psychiatric drug treatments to your children.