Saturday, March 23, 2013

Proposed Mental Health Screening Targets the Poor

Below are my comments to an op-ed posted in the Hartford Courant by Andrea Spencer entitled Screening Kids for Mental Health Critical.

Andrea Spencer is describing an inner city child. The children targeted for these potential mental health screenings would be the ones most targeted now, the most vulnerable-- the poor. Children, all children, need time to develop. Screening and diagnosing them early on puts them at risk, high risk, for a cocktail of meds--this is not the answer. The ones most likely to be screened and diagnosed come from poverty ridden areas and suffer from emotional stresses that present as anxiety and depression. Academic support is not always there. They are promoted through no fault of their own. And their mental health problems are triggered by environmental factors rather than neurological factors; so instead of a diagnosis and drugs, these kids need the right school environment, the right role models, mentors, a positive learning environment. On the contrary, where these kids spend most of their day is not always so healthy; many of the inner city elementary schools are in need of fixing. But we don't do it. We are creating many magnet schools that are refurbished and filled with new materials that are modern and aesthetically designed. and it's a step in the right direction. But, still, the inner city kids experience more academic failure, humiliation, teasing, bullying, fighting, aggression--it is a miracle some emerge unscathed. And then there are the older schools, the ones that are not magnets. Our youngest and most fragile children attend these schools, sit in less than par classrooms with old desks and mismatched chairs, collapsing ceilings, chipped paint, exposed pipes and asbestos; and many of these buildings should no longer be called schools; they should be condemned. Mental health issues will continue to grow and become even more complicated and unmanageable if we don't take care of the inequity in our educational system. As Andrea Spencer points out, if we go back to the school records, there is an origin.