Monday, March 28, 2005

Another teenager has shot and murdered schoolchildren and mental health movement proponents have offered us the standard explanation and the usual solution. This child was mentally ill, we are told, and if only someone had seen the symptoms and notified mental health authorities, the child would have been accurately diagnosed, given the proper medication, and this tragedy could have been prevented.

If only the child had been placed on antidepressant medications, psychiatrists say, this murder/suicide would never have happened. The story is usually followed by calls for more mental health screening and treatment of schoolchildren.

However, in most cases of school shootings, the signs had been noticed, the child had been reported to mental health authorities, he had received a psychiatric diagnosis, he been put on psychiatric medications and was taking the medications when he pulled the trigger.

Eric Harris of Columbine was on the antidepressant Luvox and Kip Kinkel in Oregon was on Prozac. And the same was true in perhaps a dozen cases in all. And this may be the tip of the iceberg, since this information is often kept confidential and out of the papers, even when a murder occurs.

Now news reports indicate Jeff Weise, the murderer of 10 in Red Lake, Minn., had been suicidal and committed to a mental hospital. He began taking an antidepressant last summer, and his dosage had been increased a week before the shootings.

In 2003, Britain banned giving antidepressants to children and adolescents, and last year Health Canada issued a stern warning about these drugs: “There are clinical trial and post-marketing reports with SSRIs and other newer anti-depressants, in both pediatrics and adults, of severe agitation-type adverse events coupled with self-harm or harm to others.”

This year the Food and Drug Administration has mandated a black box on antidepressants labels, warning of the potential for increasing suicidal thoughts and behavior in children and adolescents. Yet, as Vera Sharav of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, has said:

“Journalists continue to be beguiled by speculative scientific hypotheticals which psychiatrists discuss as though they have been proven. Misinformation is transmitted to the public about unproven ‘chemical imbalances’ in the brain of depressed people — when, in fact, no evidence exists demonstrating any chemical or structural brain abnormality in people diagnosed with a mental illness.”

Indeed, the papers are full of quotes of psychiatrists claiming depression is a serious medical disease caused by a serotonin imbalance in the brain. But there is no conclusive scientific in support of this theory. Not surprisingly, psychiatrists have never developed any physical test to detect depression or any mental illness, and all diagnosis is done based solely on symptoms. In other words, antidepressants and all other psychiatric medications are medically unnecessary.

Yet whenever anyone criticizes the drugs, psychiatrists shout about the increased risk of suicide if patients stop taking their antidepressants, though no antidepressant has ever been tested on suicidal patients and therefore never approved by the FDA as safe and effective in preventing suicide.

President Bush included an unprecedented call for mandatory mental health screening of schoolchildren in his recently passed budget bill. Violating the rights of parents to just say no to psychiatric diagnosis and treatment of their children, this idea originated in the President’s New Freedom Commission.

With 8 million children on psychiatric drugs, all signs indicate this method of dealing with our children is not working.

It is time both parents and schools find a different way to deal with troubled children. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” the fault is not in our children’s brains or genes, but in ourselves, and it is to our own treatment of children we must look to find an answer to their problems — and ours.

Keith Hoeller is editor of the Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry, Seattle, Wash.

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