Red Ice Membership

Psychiatry and the Schools: Mental Hygiene in the 21 st Century
2004 07 07

From & John Breeding, PhD

It was only about 70 years ago that the Nazis' final solution began with the extermination of an estimated 100,000 “mentally handicapped” Germans considered unfit for living. Many today are unaware that the Nazis looked to the early 20 th Century example of the United States eugenics movement for inspiration. As the American Eugenics Records Office (ERO) proudly reported at the time, “the text of the German statute reads almost like the American model sterilization Law.” Upon receiving an honorary degree in 1936 from the University of Heidelberg for his devotion to racial biology, ERO superintendent Harry Laughlin gave thanks to the university for validating “the common understanding of German and American scientists of the nature of eugenics.” Largely because of the shameful excesses of the Holocaust, the American eugenics experiment was gradually discontinued.

We all now decry the notion of eliminating life judged “unfit”, and with less unanimity, we reject sterilization to prevent birth from unfit parents such as the mentally retarded or “mentally ill.” A modern analogue remains, however, in the form of our mental health system, as illustrated in how we deal with our school-age children today.

In 1970, alarmed by the fact that almost 200,000 American children were taking stimulant drugs, the U.S. Congress convened a special hearing on the issue. Despite the fact that these hearings resulted in the stimulant drugs being classified as Schedule 2 controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration because of their high addictive potential and risk of abuse, rates of administration to our children soared during the last 30 years. Today, an estimated 6 million children are being prescribed stimulants and millions more are taking other psychotropic drugs such as the antidepressants Zoloft and Paxil and the antipsychotics Thorazine and Zyprexa. Jessica Vascallero reports in the July 2 nd Boston Globe that “About 11 million schoolchildren and adolescents took prescription drugs for mental health in 2002, and the number is rising. That would be close to 20 percent of our nation's school-age children, which is about a 5,000 percent increase since 1970.

Many think the drugs represent a benevolent medical response to our hordes of mentally ill children. Others like myself consider the practice a shameful disgrace, a form of institutionalized child abuse. Regardless of one's opinion, here are two significant facts:

1. No children's behavioral problem routinely seen by a psychiatrist or other physician has been scientifically demonstrated to be of biological or genetic causation. There is no objective test, no confirmatory physical or chemical abnormality—for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, or any of the other childhood diagnoses popular among psychiatrists. These diagnoses are wholly subjective, based on judgments of what is and isn't normal behavior.

2. psychiatric drugs are dangerous: they are toxic and potentially lethal. Consider these facts. There were 186 Ritalin-related heart deaths reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) during the 1990s. Because the system of reporting is voluntary, experts believe that this figure represents only 1-10 percent of the actual number of deaths. In other words, from this one drug alone, during a ten-year period, there were 1,800 to 18,000 deaths. In addition, because of evidence indicating their potential for inducing suicidal thinking and behavior in children, the United Kingdom has banned, for children, the use of all but one of the antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI's such as Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Effexor and Remeron). The FDA is investigating the matter, but thus far has issued only a warning.

That over 10 million of our nation's children are on these drugs is intensely disturbing. That parents are being cajoled, threatened and forced to drug their children is no less troubling. People in the schools and in our Child Protective Service (CPS) agencies have become such true believers in the value of drugging our children that they are using coercion on parents. This helps explain why it was necessary for the 2003 Texas legislature to pass House Bills 1406 and 320 prohibiting schools and CPS employees, respectively, from pressuring parents to drug their children. Many other states have enacted similar legislation.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Child Medication Safety Act by a vote of 425-1. This Act would make it unlawful for a school to force children to take psychotropic drugs as a condition of attending school. The bill has been held up in the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee all year. The chair of the committee is Judd Gregg, and according to the Boston Globe article mentioned above, it is Senator Edward Kennedy who is responsible for committee's failure to act.

As a graduate from a school psychology training program at the University of Texas , I am absolutely appalled that the National Association of School Psychologists is trying to kill the bill. The Association's lobbyist, Libby Nealis, says “it would deter schools from discussing crucial mental health information with parents” This is nonsense. All the law says is that drugs cannot be required as a condition of attending school.

Incredibly enough, promoters of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry are not satisfied with drugging 15-20 percent of our nation's children. As Jeanne Lenzer reports in the June 19 th issue of the British Medical Journal , President Bush's New Freedom Commission (NFC) plans to unveil this month an initiative to screen for possible “mental illness” all 52 million children and 6 million adults in our nation's public schools. Not only that, but the screening is linked to a policy which has been used in Texas and other states to require certain recommended drugs for treatment! For those who still believe] that the schools are about academic education, it is time to wake up to the overwhelming presence of psychiatry in the schools and resolve to do something about it. The NFC's understanding of freedom is clearly not freedom to be or think or do, but freedom to be “treated” with psychotropic drugs as the educational/psychiatric forces deem necessary.

John Breeding, Ph.D., is a psychologist with a private counseling practice in Austin, Texas. He is director of Wildest Colts Resources, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to assist adults in becoming more effective in their work with young people, offering non-drug alternatives to helping young people who are having a hard time. He is also director of Texans For Safe Education, a citizens group dedicated to challenging the ever-increasing role of psychiatry, especially psychiatric drugs, in the schools. A passionate advocate for children and families, John has two teenage children of his own, Eric, age 16, and Vanessa, age 12. His website is

Check out Dr. Breeding's Books:

The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses

True Nature and Great Misunderstandings

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