A nationwide initiative has been quietly in the making since 2002.  Conceived in Texas, apparently with President George W. Bush’s enthusiastic blessing, there are now some 27 sites around the country piloting various parts of it.  Nationally, however, the proposed legislation earned barely a blip on the radar screen—the project is so hush-hush that two officials were sacked for speaking to the press about it—until mid-July, when the House Appropriations Committee approved $20 million in new federal monies to begin nationwide implementation.

The New Freedom Initiative is a plan to screen the entire U.S. population for mental illness and to provide a cradle-to-grave continuum of services for those identified as either mentally ill or at risk of becoming so.  Under the plan, schools would become hubs of the screening process—not only for children but for their parents and teachers.  There are even components aimed at senior citizens, pregnant women, and new mothers.

In April 2002, President Bush established the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health to conduct a “comprehensive study of the United States mental health service delivery system.”  The commission issued its recommendations in July 2003, chief among them being that schools are in a “key position” to screen the 52 million students and 6 million adults who work at educational facilities.

The precursor endeavor, the Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP), was a trial balloon, not a pilot program.  This means a start-up venture (usually confined to one town or state) to assess the amount and type of resistance to an idea.  TMAP started in 1995 as an alliance of individuals from the pharmaceutical industry, the University of Texas, and the mental-health and corrections systems of Texas.  Recently, the New Freedom Commission designated TMAP a “model” medication-treatment plan, whereupon President Bush instructed more than 25 federal agencies to develop a nationwide “implementation plan.”

TMAP was funded through a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant—and several drug companies that stand to gain billions of dollars.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the philanthropic (read: p.r.) arm of the Johnson & Johnson medical-supply/household-products empire and a major player in promoting controversial prevention curricula in schools.

Here, the plot begins to thicken.  TMAP promotes the use of newer, more expensive antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs.  For that reason, the commission’s nationwide version of the proposal sent up red flags in the Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector General.  OIG employee Allen Jones essentially blew the whistle when he revealed that key officials had received money and perks from drug companies with a stake in TMAP.  Some members of the New Freedom Commission had served on advisory boards for pharmaceutical companies whose products were being recommended.  Other members had indirect ties to TMAP.  Jones was sacked in May for speaking to the British Medical Journal and the New York Times.

“TMAP,” said Jones, “arose during a period of decreased FDA oversight and vastly increased sophistication in pharmaceutical industry marketing practices.  These practices aggressively pursued favorable public and professional ‘opinion’ through media promotion and biased reporting of drug trial results.”

Between 1995 and 1999, the use of antidepressants by 7- to 12-year-olds increased 151 percent—and 580 percent for children under 6, with some as young as 5 committing suicide.  The issue of coercive child-drugging in public schools is so contentious that the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Child Medication Safety Act in May 2003 to prevent schools from intimidating parents into drugging their youngsters as a condition of attending school.  The bill is now being debated in the Senate.

Yet, here comes the New Freedom Commission, linking screening “with state-of-the art treatment and supports.”

At a time when Congress and the FDA are questioning the role of many antidepressants in suicide and violent aggression, legislation that would target even more children and adults for unproved, radical psychotropic-drug therapies is highly suspect.

Take, for example, Olanzapine (trade name Zyprexa), one of the newer antipsychotic drugs recommended in the Texas plan.  It is Eli Lilly’s top seller.  A 2003 New York Times article by Gardiner Harris reported that 70 percent of Olanzapine sales already are paid for by government agencies, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Eli Lilly has multiple ties to the Bush administration.  George Bush, Sr., was a member of Lilly’s board of directors.  Lilly made $1.6 million in political contributions in 2000—82 percent of which went to George W. Bush and the Republican Party.  President Bush appointed Lilly’s chief executive officer, Sidney Taurel, to a seat on the Homeland Security Council.

During his 2000 presidential campaign, Bush boasted of his support for Texas’ TMAP project, without saying exactly how it worked or the role he envisioned for it nationally.  Instead, he bragged that the legislation he passed expanded Medicaid coverage of psychotropic drugs.

Leaving aside questions of political profiteering and conflict of interest, let us examine the initiative itself.

President Bush appears to agree with the New Freedom Commission’s findings that mental illness is pervasive and that aggressive, early screening and intervention are the only means of keeping it at bay.  The President’s commission also adds that removal of stigma is key to the success of the initiative, but stigma will, in fact, be heightened as the hapless young “patient” moves into the workforce and the nursing home.  He will be permanently classified as “at risk” and tracked for a lifetime by government agencies.

Dr. Darrel Regier, director of research at the American Psychiatric Association, has, of course, lauded the President’s initiative.  Kevin P. Dwyer, president of the National Association of School Psychologists, and Dr. Graham Emslie, who helped develop the Texas project, are typical defenders of early, mass screening.  This “valuable information [is] almost impossible to obtain from any other source,” Dwyer once complained.  True, most adults would see right through such attempts.  That is why he worries that the flood of lawsuits from parents over invasive, personal test questions under the cover of academic testing (in Virginia, Arizona, Utah, and Pennsylvania, among other states) might result in a negative court ruling that would prompt legislators to nix all psychological surveys in schools.

Special interests as well as various social-service agencies and universities all pitch “prevention” programs (many of them quasipolitical, such as those on AIDS awareness) to federal agencies in an effort to get tell-all polls into America’s classrooms.  Most are “What would you do if . . . ?” questionnaires and self-reports that focus on sex, race, depression, drugs, and parents.  These surveys are followed by a smorgasbord of nonacademic programs.  The rationale is that it is in the best interests of the child and society to “[create] a State-level structure for school-based mental health services to provide consistent State-level leadership and collaboration between education, general health, and mental health systems.”  The enabling vehicle for the New Freedom Initiative is the No Child Left Behind Act, ostensibly to “fulfill the promise of NCLB . . . by remov[ing] the emotional, behavioral, and academic barriers that interfere with student success in school.”

According to the commission, large numbers of children are expelled from preschools and childcare facilities for disruptive behaviors and emotional disorders.  But are they?  Thanks to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), most are placed right back in the classroom, no matter how disruptive or disturbing their behavior.  School officials are reluctant to lose precious state funding by showing miscreants the door.  As for parents who send their kids to school already disciplined and ready to learn, nobody cares.  Social policy is geared to the negligent and irresponsible, not to the upstanding and dependable.

The commission seeks not only to assess youngsters but “to expand school mental health programs and evaluate parents”—through Parts B and C of IDEA.

The commission advocates examining parents and homes for anything that might point to a “physical or mental condition [with] a high probability of resulting in a [child’s] developmental delay”—something way beyond the present capabilities of the mental-health profession—beginning with a mandatory Nurse-Family Partnership component.

Why the extraordinary emphasis on parents?  The commission and, indeed, most of the mental-health community believe that mental “disorders” of parents occurring before children reach the age of six “can interfere with critical emotional, cognitive, and physical development, and portend a lifetime of problems in school, at home, and in the community.”  Therefore, “treating the parents’ mental health problems also benefits the child.”

“Treating parents” means psychotherapy and drugs, and the initiative calls for a mandate to provide “social and emotional check-ups” in all primary healthcare facilities.  This means parents are supposed to be surreptitiously assessed for mental “illness” every time they walk into their physician’s office.

Have policymakers learned nothing from the holocaust, the old Soviet Union’s “psychiatric hospitals,” or, more recently, South Africa’s so-called “mental institutions,” where political dissidents were routinely “re-educated” and/or tortured?

Recall that the President appointed Eli Lilly’s chief executive officer to a seat on the Homeland Security Council.  Even if one believes that George W. Bush has no intention of abusing the concept of Homeland Security as an instrument of political correctness, who is to say that some future administration will not?  Already, the PATRIOT Act is vastly altering the civil rights American citizens previously took for granted.

If you think the “coercion” scenario is too strong, consider: In August 2003, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation announced the results of their $1.2 million taxpayer-funded study.  It stated, essentially, that traditionalists are mentally disturbed.  Scholars from the Universities of Maryland, California at Berkeley, and Stanford had determined that social conservatives, in particular, suffer from “mental rigidity,” “dogmatism,” and “uncertainty avoidance,” together with associated indicators for mental illness.  Some conservatives and political pundits chortled over the so-called study, but the fact remains that nothing marginalizes a person faster today than a suggestion of being mentally unbalanced.  The 20-year-long practice of psychographic (emotional-attitudinal) profiling under the cover of academic testing in schools is already intimidating conservative and Christian students and their parents into silence.

FDR’s food-stamp program was a temporary response to the Depression.  By 1974, every state was required to participate in the program, creating a nationwide mandate.  The New Freedom Mental Health Initiative is following the same route, state by state, beginning with Illinois’ passage of copycat legislation, the Children’s Mental Health Act, requiring (as of August 31, 2004) compulsory mental-health screening for children and pregnant women through Illinois’ educational system.  Between child-welfare agencies and schools, government is legislatively usurping more and more of parents’ prerogatives—and teachers’ time—forcing the mental evaluation of all minor children.

Sacked whistleblower Allen Jones estimates that, if the plan were implemented nationwide, the annual costs to Medicaid programs would be approximately $3.7 billion per year to treat one psychiatric disorder alone.  That means over ten million dollars per day just in Medicaid expenditures, not to mention the additional burden on teachers and schools.

Do we want our lawmakers even touching this initiative?