Brain Games

Imagine that your daughter’s school has called to inform you
that her annual mental health exam suggests she has a mood
disorder. What’s more, her treatment requires each family member to
fill out a psychological questionnaire. The survey is deeply
personal, ranging from family history to drinking and sexual
habits. Some of your answers could, if they’re misinterpreted,
indicate a higher risk factor for your daughter. Should you lie
about being treated with anti-depressants? And if you tell the
truth, who will see your records, now that they’re permanently

According to some human rights advocates and psychiatric abuse
survivors, this sort of scenario could, if the Bush administration
has its way, become commonplace. In fact, watchdogs on both the
right and the left are worried that the compulsory mental health
screening of every man, woman, and child in America — along with
mandatory drug therapy for all those deemed to have a disorder —
is just around the corner.

The concern stems from an executive order George W. Bush signed
in 2002, establishing the President’s New Freedom Commission on
Mental Health, an effort to study the U.S. mental health system and
to recommend improvements. The final report, released in July 2003,
calls for mental health screening in schools and primary health
care settings. The document appears to be well intentioned, if
overly ambitious, touting mental health intervention as a cure for
the social ills of drug addiction, unemployment, homelessness, and
incarceration. A road map for implementing the so-called New
Freedom Initiative is reportedly in the works.

But an article about the report, posted last spring on the
British Medical Journal‘s Web site
alarmed both civil liberty advocates and civil libertarians. Citing
ties between the Bush family and the pharmaceutical industry, the
article implied that the New Freedom plan is a ploy to ramp up drug

In the libertarian-leaning Chronicles (Oct.
2004), author B.K. Eakman, executive director of the National
Education Consortium, worries that conservative and Christian
students would be discriminated against if psychological screening
becomes a federal mandate. To support his contention, he cites a
2003 National Institute of Mental Health and National Science
Foundation study that found that ‘traditionalists are mentally

It’s hard to know what to make of such claims, in part because
the mainstream media have all but ignored the issue., a
coalition of those who say they’ve suffered abuse inside the mental
health system, places some of the blame for the scarce coverage on
the American Psychiatric Association, which allegedly cooperated
with the Bush administration to remain silent on the subject.

In December 2004, though, Bush did sign the Prohibition on
Mandatory Medication Amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities
in Education Act. The law prohibits schools from requiring students
to take psychiatric drugs as a requisite for their education. And
in October 2004, New Freedom Commission chair Michael F. Hogan
penned a letter to The Washington Times, in response to a
commentary titled ‘Bush’s Brave New World’ that attacked the plan.
Hogan stated that ‘the commission did not call for mandatory
universal mental health screening for all children. I am at a loss
to explain why this misrepresentation persists, since it is at odds
with the plain language of our report to the president.’

These assurances notwithstanding, many are still questioning why
the government has chosen to intervene in the country’s mental
health in the first place. And while mandatory medication for
minors has been prohibited, psychiatric testing and cradle-to-grave
screening of family members are still possibilities, leading
critics to worry that in this post-9/11 political climate the
government wants to increase mental health services simply to get
access to mental health records.

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