Scientology Group Behind Attack On Mental Health Medicine

Source: Tampa Tribune
Date: April 14, 2005

by David L. Shern

Earlier this year the Tribune reported on the Pinellas County School Board's decision not to permit the pilot testing of a voluntary suicide screening program in Pinellas schools. The screening initiative was opposed by representatives of the Citizen's Commission for Human Rights, a group established by the Church of Scientology in 1969.

Now the CCHR is supporting two bills being considered by the Florida House that seek to further roll back the clock on the recognition and treatment of mental illnesses. In House Bills 209 and 909, unnecessary and unproductive requirements are placed on schools and the departments of Children & Families and Juvenile Justice that will make the identification and referral of children with mental illnesses more difficult.

These bills are particularly dangerous because these treatable conditions are among the most serious health problems confronted by children and adolescents, and they are underrecognized and undertreated.

We have made enormous progress in the science of mental health care during the last two decades, as witnessed by the Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health and by President Bush's recent commission report. Both of these documents underscore the importance of early recognition and treatment of mental illnesses to avoid the lifelong disability that can result from lack of treatment. Diagnosis of these disorders is as reliable as that for any other medical condition. There are strong biological and genetic markers for most common mental illnesses. There is no reason that mental illnesses should be treated differently from other medical conditions.

Misinformation about the legitimacy of mental health diagnoses and the effectiveness of treatment, as well as continuing discrimination in insurance coverage, thwart our progress. Voluntary and systematic screening in schools and treatment facilities is one scientifically validated strategy for helping to move us forward.

Screening must be linked with referral to scientifically based treatments. Like all important medical decisions, treatment strategies for mental illnesses should be developed by families in consultation with their family physician.

The proposed legislation makes recognition and referral in schools and treatment facilities more difficult, making it less likely that families will be alerted to concerns and have the opportunity to consider treatment alternatives.

These House bills represent a giant step backward. They further stigmatize mental illnesses. Their passage would inappropriately intrude into schools and treatment facilities and make it more difficult to get help for children in need. They reflect bad science and potentially damaging public policy.

David L. Shern, Ph.D., is dean of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida.