This Bill Isn't Mentally Healthy

Source: Tampa Tribune
Date: April 16, 2005

Sen. Victor Crist has introduced one of the worst bills of the session. It would keep students from getting psychiatric treatment even when they need it.

The Tampa Republican has said he sponsored it because parents need to have control over their children's medications. But Floridians don't need legislation to maintain control of their children.

The bill is backed by an arm of the Church of Scientology called the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, and Scientologists have never been shy about their opposition to psychiatry or any mental health services.

The bill would prevent a school from referring a student for diagnosis or treatment for a mental disorder without telling the parents there is no specific medical test for the disorder or that the child's behaviors could be the result of some physical condition.

It also requires that parents be told they have the right to refuse a psychological screening and that the label of mental disorder will stay on the student's permanent record, which only happens in limited cases today.

The bill is obviously designed to keep parents from seeking mental health counseling for their children, and that's outrageous.

One in five children has a diagnosable mental health problem, from depression to extreme emotional disturbance, yet nearly two-thirds of those children don't get any help. And without treatment, these children are at increased risk of school failure, crime and even suicide.

Crist's bill flies in the face of a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that concluded depression and suicide "screening in high schools is a safe component of youth suicide prevention efforts."

Yet this legislation would make it difficult for educators to make recommendations or even talk to parents about behavioral issues. Fortunately, Crist's bill has stalled. It should be eliminated altogether.