Using Sandy Hook as Pretext, HHS and DOE Claim Public Schools for Big Psychopharma
By James F. Tracy
Using the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as its justification, the Obama administration has recently given the psychiatric business and pharmaceutical industry a major gift by quietly introducing a behavioral and mental health program in public schools throughout the United States. The maneuver was initially laid out on January 16, 2013 in President Obama’s executive policy, Now is the Time: The President’s Plan to Protect Our Children and Our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence.
The document is partly devoted to articulating Obama’s proposed gun control measures that failed to move gain legislative traction in 2013. Yet an under-reported section of Now is the Time is applied to “making schools safer” and “improving mental health services” for students. While presented by the Obama administration as “commonsense solutions to gun violence,“ one is left to consider the long range implications of such an initiative, particularly in light of the Affordable Care Act and the psychopharmaceutical complex’s never-ending drive to expand its clientele.
On September 22, 2014 Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced $99 million in new grants “to train new mental health providers, help teachers and others recognize mental health issues in youth and connect them to help and increase access to mental health services for young people.”
On September 23 the Department of Education announced an additional $70 million in “School Climate Transformation grants.” According to the DOE, over half of the funding “will be used to develop, enhance, or expand systems of support for implementing evidence based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks for improving behavioral outcomes and learning conditions.” The goals of such measures include “connecting[ing] children, youths, and families to appropriate services and supports,” and “increase[ing] measures of and the ability to respond to mental health issues among school-aged youth.”
Both HHS and DOE explicitly cite Obama’s Now is the Time declaration as rationale for the new programs. “The administration is committed to increasing access to mental health services to protect the health of children and communities,” Secretary Burwell asserts. “If kids don’t feel safe, they can’t learn,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan similarly remarks. “Through these grants of more than $70 million, we are continuing our commitment to ensure that kids have access to the best learning experience possible.”
Of the DOE’s $70 million, $13 million is allocated to aiding school districts in creating “high-quality school emergency plans.” Another $14 million goes toward “Project Prevent grants” for violence-plagued schools to “be used for school-based counseling services, or referrals to community-based counseling services for assistance in coping with trauma or anxiety.”
Such designs should be viewed in light of three related concerns that hint at broader motives and agendas: 1) the US government’s continued aggressive transformation of the healthcare system; 2) psychiatry and drug manufacturers’ shared mission to persuade an increasing segment of the national and global population that it has one or more undiagnosed mental or emotional “disorders” that require analysis and treatment.
Introducing psychiatric explanations and methodologies into school environments guarantees a growing customer base for the psychiatric profession and pharmaceutical industry. Alongside government’s increasing control of healthcare, the technocratic surveillance and management of everyday thought and behavior is likewise emerging as part of what is deceptively termed “wellness.” In reality such efforts ensure an ever-expanding bureaucracy, handsomely line the pockets of a select few, and further normalize a culture of learned helplessness and control within an environment that already privileges conformity as a matter of routine.
Between the early 1990s and mid 2000s antidepressant use in the US increased almost fourfold. At present 20 percent of Americans take at least one psychotropic medication, a figure that at the present rate of expansion will double by the early 2020s. Yet there is little evidence such drugs actually address the symptoms psychiatric patients are advised they have.
Indeed, the entire notion of “biological psychiatry”–that psychiatric conditions are rooted in observable processes–cannot withstand serious scientific scrutiny. Yet such notions comprise the underlying rationale of psychopharmocology. As psychology professor Elliot Valenstein observes,
The belief that the complex cognitive and emotional states that underlie any emotional disorder are regulated by a single transmitter receptor subtype is probably no more valid than the idea held earlier by phrenologists who believed that complex mental attributes could be localized in one specific part of the brain.
More recently, Dr. Richard Friedman, professor of clinical psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College, remarks, “[W]e don’t yet understand the fundamental cause of most psychiatric disorders, in part because the brain is uniquely difficult to study; you can’t just biopsy the brain and analyze it. That is why scientists have had great trouble identifying new targets for psychiatric drugs.”
At present de facto behavioral examinations are administered by medical providers’ inquiring on a patient’s tobacco and alcohol intake. Yet psychiatry has been pushing for “mental health screenings” to ferret out clientele since the early 1990s. The fact that such mental health practices are being introduced throughout the nation’s schools suggests how they will likely become much more commonplace under in coming years.
“Absolutely, people should have a mental health checkup,” notes Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, editor of the American Psychiatric Association’s Psychiatric News. “It’s just as important as having a physical checkup.” Borenstein recommends the “P.H.Q.-9,” a “patient health questionnaire,” freely available online, as a preliminary assessment for determining mild-to-major “depressive disorder.” The P.H.Q-9 was designed with funding from Pfizer.
Perhaps coincidentally, the HHS and DOE announced their mental health grants just two weeks before National Depression Screening Day on October 9th. The occasion for “mental health awareness” has been observed since the early 1990s by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., a nonprofit 501c(3) offering its own free online examination.
“People stop and they check in on their physical health but they don’t do the same with their mental health,” says Michelle Holmberg, director of programs at SMH. “In the same way you would get a blood pressure screening … why aren’t people stopping to do mental health screenings?”
Saul Levin, the CEO and Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association, sits on Screening for Mental Health’s board of directors. SMH received over $16 million in “gifts, grants, contributions, and membership fees” between 2008 and 2012, according to the organization’s 2012 federal tax return, suggesting backing from APA and like-minded stakeholders.
Corporate news media have thoroughly blacked out the Obama administration’s program that further transforms the nation’s public schools in to lucrative referral centers for big psychopharma. In contrast, most school shootings that have become routine throughout the US receive considerable publicity, yet almost no investigative work or follow-up from the same news outlets sensationalizing them.
Alongside Obama’s mental health mandate, the coverage further anchors in the public mind the idea—however subtle—that practically all youth are potential time bombs that must be closely monitored and, where appropriate, defused. Such approaches only negate the possibility for achieving what they implicitly promise: the prospect for self realization within a genuine community of peers.
 Now is the Time: The President’s Plan to Protect Our Children and our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence (PDF), January 16, 2013, Washington DC.
 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “HHS Announces $99 Million in New Grants to Improve Mental Health Services for Young People,” September 22, 2014, Washington DC.
 U.S. Department of Education, “U.S. Department of Education Invests More Than $70 Million to Improve School Climate and Keep Students Safe,” September 23, 2014.
 “U.S. Department of Education Invests More Than $70 Million.”
 Centers for Disease Control/National Center for Health Statistics, “Antidepressant Use in Persons Aged 12 and Over, 2005-2008”(PDF), October 2011.
 Elliot S. Valenstein, Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health, New York: Free Press, 1998, 226.
 Richard A. Friedman, M.D., “A Dry Pipeline for Psychiatric Drugs,” New York Times, August 19, 2013.
 Ann Carrns, “A Regular Checkup is Good for the Mind as well as the Body,” New York Times, November 13, 2012.
 Lindsay Holmes,” This Little Mental Health Screening Could Have a Big Impact When It Comes to Depression,” Huffington Post, October 9, 2014.
 No major Western news outlets have given serious attention to the Sandy Hook School massacre narrative’s many unanswered questions. In the more recent Isla Vista and Las Vegas shootings the investigating law enforcement agencies have refused to publicly release their reports on those incidents.
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