Massive Mental Health Intervention For Ineffective Treatment

   Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

     Today we see a noble INTENTION which will result in more drugging of children. As usual, the treatment success is assumed with reality being that the children will not get better, but will suffer from drug side effects.

The Algorithmic Managing of ‘At-risk’ Children
Part two of a Mad In America investigation into the expansion of psychological screening and electronic surveillance of children and youth. Read part one.

Experts point to mounting evidence that scientifically dubious mental health screening programs are just one part of an international governance shift towards creating all-pervasive surveillance systems for diagnosing ‘pre-crime’ and managing ‘at-risk’ children and youth. And not only is this not helping kids, critics argue, it’s demonstrably harming them.

By Rob Wipond
MIA Correspondent

The coroner’s report on the February 2010 suicide of Victoria, British Columbia teenager Freya Milne seemed to suggest that Freya’s mental health treatment may have contributed to her death. The coroner’s report notes, for example, that Freya and her mother were “not advised of the potential risks” of the benzodiazepine medication Freya was prescribed in mid-January of 2010, such as increased “paradoxical behavior” and “suicidal thoughts and behavior.” And the report describes how “the dosage was increased and the medication refilled” by the treating psychiatrist twice more, even as Freya suddenly became alternately too depressed, hyperactive or panicked to attend her psychiatric appointments.


  Psychiatric drugs caused the problem, then the treatment must be more drugs.

Nevertheless, the coroner recommended boosting mental health training and interventions in schools. In part from those recommendations emerged the Practice Support Program for Child and Youth Mental Health (PSP-CYMH), a training program for British Columbia family doctors and school staff. Independent experts criticize many of that program’s educational materials, saying that they tend to misrepresent the scientific evidence base and downplay the risks of psychiatric medications (see Part One: The Proactive Search for Mental Illnesses in Children).

The coroner’s report on Freya Milne also advised the provincial Ministry of Education “to ensure that all documentation related to a student be placed on a student file including email correspondence, meeting notes and anything else pertaining to a student,” and to start a “flagging system on all student files where a child or youth has a diagnosed mental health issue.”


   The notion is that if “information is shared” more effective intervention will occur. If the interventions were effective, this argument might have some meaning.

The government has begun taking action in line with those recommendations, too. But experts are warning that the well-meaning intentions behind those recommendations are dangerously divorced from what the evidence base shows about the psychological and social impacts of surveillance activities on children and youth. And along the way, they explain why being divorced from any scientific evidence base may not be an accidental feature of these recommendations and programs.

Jo Ann Nolan described what those types of recommendations, and programs like the PSP-CYMH, ultimately lead to on the ground.

“There’s so much pressure on teachers and superintendents and school boards to do this,” said Nolan, a social worker assigned to eight Ontario public schools. Nolan said that all professionals connected to Ontario schools are constantly being deluged with “fact sheets,” training workshops, screening tools, and hand-outs and educational videos that are just like the PSP-CYMH materials (and in some cases they’re the exact same materials), ultimately geared towards identifying students from pre-Kindergarten on up who have mental health problems and getting them into treatment. Typically, said Nolan, these initiatives begin by inviting discussion about the normalcy of anxiety and sadness and the importance of learning coping strategies to maintain mental healthiness, and then transition into stating that when problems endure beyond a short time they may indicate signs of “brain diseases” that require the earliest interventions possible with drug treatments.


The Gates and Carnegie Foundations have put $100 million into InBloom, one of the biggest of a growing number of for-profit companies and non-profits gathering and analyzing school records, and in some cases linking those with post-secondary and workforce records. These organizations generate analytical reports and sometimes give or sell direct access to the data to private companies or government agencies that provide goods or services to the education sector or to children and families. It’s a rapidly expanding business in nearly every state, bolstered by federal stimulus funding, while lobbying alliances like the Data Quality Campaign give a mixture of rationales about improving education strategies and school accountability. A 2013 US Department of Education draft report draws a vivid picture of where this movement is heading. Lamenting the analytical limitations of test scores, the report endorses a “growing movement” to implement more comprehensive data gathering systems and use more invasive surveillance methods such as video cameras and sensors in computer mice. The goal is to capture more “noncognitive” information about school children like “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources.” The hope, the report explains, is to gain better understanding of what traits create “high-achieving individuals,” while improving management of children who are “at-risk” of  developing “unproductive mindsets” or mental health problems. In essence, there’s growing interest from many sectors of our society in achieving panoptical surveillance of school children.


Health is one of those sectors. Wendy Armstrong, a health policy analyst and consumer advocate, told Mad In America that many health researchers are among the strongest promoters of testing and screening, accessing school and electronic health records, and even mass surveillance to gather information from a multitude of sources, in hopes of being able to better identify “risk factors” and then intervene early to prevent all manner of ills. “Health policy researchers have actually been the biggest pushers for amalgamating all of these databases, because now we’re big into the ‘determinants of health.’” Your schooling, work history, income, housing, intimate relationships and more affect your physical condition and psychological status, said Armstrong, “It’s all seen as important health information.”

Yet this aspect of population surveillance and health research is nascent and often weak, said Armstrong. “What the public and government are being sold is actually the power of prediction.” And governments, she said, are buying – particularly when it comes to methods of psychologically profiling children and youth.
Surveillance and identification of “at-risk” children

If we want to see where our governments are driving all this, said Valerie Steeves, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa who has extensively researched the surveillance and “dataveillance” of children and youth, we need only look to Britain.

The UK now tracks all of its eleven million kids through integrating health and mental health data, school records, and information held by social services. In a 2010 special issue of the journal Surveillance and Society co-edited by Steeves, various authors examine how British authorities are increasingly screening and tracking kids, and studying these pools of aggregated data, all with an eye to locating children and youth on a spectrum somewhere between “vulnerable” or “at risk of mental illness” to “potentially delinquent” or “susceptible to extremist radicalization.” In effect, the government surveillance system now operates with an overlapping child protection, health and mental health, anti-bullying, anti-violence, and national security agenda that’s focused on predictive “early intervention” in all these arenas.

When the database was first started, said Steeves, “The idea was to create these detailed dossiers to protect kids from domestic violence and other kinds of harm. They also used artificial intelligence software to identify potential criminals. And the youngest ‘criminal’ they identified was a three-year-old boy. To me, this is the hub of what’s wrong with this kind of thinking.”


    The assumption is that more data will lead to better treatment. Since the treatment doesn’t work, nothing can save this program.

Government Job or Respect–Which’ll It Be?
Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson, Ph.D.
Author, “Days of Songs and Mirrors: A Jacobite in the ‘45.”
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies



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