Depressed? NYC Mental Screens in Search of People at Risk – NY Times

Depressed? NYC Screens for People at Risk – NY Times

Wed, 13 Apr 2005

A front page article in The New York Times reports that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has instructed doctors at City hospitals – who care for one in four New Yorkers – to screen all patients for depression by asking nine questions.

Screening for mental health is no different from screening for mental “defects” – the term used during the American eugenics era. Both eugenicists and psychiatrists who devised subjective questionnaires to detect underlying “defects” “traits” conditions” in order use interventions that were claimed “to improve” society.

Dr. Lloyd Sederer, who heads the mental health division of the NYC Department of Health, acknowledged that “nobody likes to be measured” but cavalierly sweeps those wishes by citizens aside, indicating that he hopes “the screening would set an example for other doctors in New York and around the country.”

Indeed, health officials in NYC are working with the RAND Corp. on implementing screening for mental health for ALL the poor, uninsured residents of NYC who are served by NYC municipal hospitals.

The “treatment” that eugenicists applied to the underprivileged persons they declared to be mentally (and genetically) “defective”– was sterilization. The “treatment” prescribed by mental health providers today, are mind altering, psychotropic drugs.

Although today’s drugs of choice for “mental disorders,” do not sterilize people–they all impede normal sexual function. Furthermore, these drugs have severe, even life-threatening adverse effects that have only recently begun to be revealed to the public.

When the FDA was confronted with a body of existing scientific evidence about the harm the drugs have caused in both clinical trials and after being marketed, the agency had no choice but to require the most widely prescribed psychotropic drugs – the SSRI antidepressants and the so-called atypical antipsychotics – to add Black Box warnings about their lethal effects.

Even in clinical trials of short duration the SSRIs–such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Effexor– were found to double the risk of suicidal behavior in children under 18 when compared to a placebo.

The atypical antipsychotics–such as, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Clozaril, Abilify, Seroquel, Geodon–are now required to carry warnings about the alarming drug-linked increase in diabetes in under 25 year olds. And these drugs must carry a Black Box warning about the demonstrable increased risk of death from heart failure in elderly patients.

Like the Eugenics movement, the proponents of government mental health policies are targeting the poor, and engaging in non-consensual human engineering. They do so by sweeping aside personal privacy rights of citizens and subjecting them to subjective, scientifically flawed, mental health tests that are likely to do more harm than good. Even the proponents of mental health screening acknowledge: “people are sometimes misdiagnosed.”

A documentary film, “Comfortably Numb,” by Gloria Berman, whose grandson was first diagnosed with ADHD, subsequently with “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” and ultimately with Bipolar Disorder.

“This fluctuation of medical diagnoses resulted in a constant variation in the amount and intensification of his medication. The physical effects on him were drastic, and the family decided enough was enough. His mother couldn’t believe how he changed; she knew that it was not he and that it had to be the medication.”

“Comfortably Numb,” has been officially selected by the New York International Film and Video Festival.

“Comfortably Numb is a riveting short documentary that portrays the devastating effects of psychiatric drugs given to more than 8 million American children. Kids as young as two years of age are being given powerful, mind-altering drugs, most of which have not been properly tested or approved for children.”

“Comfortably Numb pierces the wall of secrecy that surrounds the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry and exposes the flaws in a system that creates riches for some while it devastates the lives of others.”

“Have we lost our minds in allowing this to happen, or have we simply become ‘Comfortably Numb’?”

Comfortably Numb will be shown in Palm Beach Florida, at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at the Muvico at CityPlace.

And in New York City, on Sunday, May 1st, Noon, at the Village East Theater at 12th Street and 2nd Ave. Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
212-595-8974

THE NEW YORK TIMES
April 13, 2005
Depressed? New York City Screens for People at Risk
By MARC SANTORA and BENEDICT CAREY

Doctors in New York City have begun to use a simple questionnaire to determine if a patient is at risk for depression, a practice that health officials hope will become a routine part of primary care, much like a blood pressure test or cholesterol reading.

The new program is the first to carry out depression screening using a scored test on a wide scale. It comes amid a spirited national debate among psychiatrists, policy makers and patient-advocacy groups on the wisdom of screening for mental disorders, especially in children.

In 2003, an expert panel convened by President Bush recommended expanding mental health screening, and Congress budgeted $20 million in supporting money for state pilot programs for this year. Several states, including populous states like Florida and Illinois, have begun to investigate large-scale screening plans, and scores of schools and other youth centers throughout the country have used instruments to test youngsters for suicide risk.

But some politicians and advocates for patients argue that testing people broadly for mental conditions is an invitation to overdiagnosis, unnecessary treatment and lifelong stigmatization.

In New York, no federal money is being used for the program, which is under way in hospitals run by the city. The test, which is being given to adults only, derives a depression score from the answers to nine questions. It is not meant to yield a formal diagnosis, but a high score would lead a doctor to recommend a more thorough clinical screening.

The test includes questions about mood and behavior. For instance, patients are asked if over the past two weeks they have felt “down, depressed or hopeless.” They can answer by checking one of four categories: not at all, several days, more than half the days or nearly every day.

Dr. Lloyd I. Sederer, who heads the mental health division of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is leading the New York effort, said he hoped the screening would set an example for other doctors in New York and around the country.

“It is our hope to have this become a standard practice,” Dr. Sederer said. Health officials in New York City are working with the Health and Hospitals Corporation to put their screening program into effect. So far, only about a dozen primary-care physicians are using the test, which was developed using research from the RAND Corporation. The goal is to have every primary-care physician in the city hospital system using the test within the next two or three years. One in every four New Yorkers uses city hospitals for basic health-care treatment, meaning the program could soon involve millions of patients.

Dr. Sederer said that a similar screening test could be developed for adolescents and that if the testing of adults gained acceptance, it would be easier for doctors to use a screening procedure for patients of any age.

Psychiatrists and other proponents say mental health screening is long overdue. They argue that millions of people with serious mental disorders never get help, and that heightened vigilance would not only allow doctors to head off much worse mental problems later, but would also reduce the tremendous costs of untreated illness.

Surveys have found that about 16 percent of Americans – or as many as 46 million people – suffer from depression at some point. And by some estimates, depression costs the nation $44 billion a year in lost work and disability – more than any other illness, including heart disease.

But opponents say that depression is not always easy for primary-care doctors to recognize, even in people who seek help, and they argue that a screening score of any kind could needlessly confuse or worry patients.

“When you label people as having a mental problem, such a label stays with them for their entire lives, whether or not it’s accurate,” said Vera Hassner Sharav, president of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, a patient-advocacy group that has been campaigning to block screening for mental health.

Critics like Ms. Sharav contend that screening tests will also increase the use of psychiatric drugs, including antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac, whose use in children and adolescents has recently come under scrutiny by regulators.

Representative Ron Paul, a Texas Republican and a gynecologist, introduced an amendment last fall to block federal financing for screening programs, in part because of worries about overmedicating schoolchildren. The plan was rejected.

“We already have a tremendous number of kids being put on drugs like Ritalin and Prozac,” Dr. Paul said, “and I think if these screening programs grow, you’re going to see a lot of people pushed into medication programs for behavioral problems.”

Dr. Sederer and psychiatrists, psychologists and administrators around the country who favor screening say these concerns are overblown and obscure a much larger problem: a dismissive public attitude toward mental illness.

Bill Emmet, coordinator for the Campaign for Mental Health Reform, a coalition of organizations working to build support for screening and other mental health programs, said: “Are people sometimes misdiagnosed? Of course. But the fact is that there are whole segments of the population that for a variety of reasons are not being diagnosed with problems they do have, and that is the far greater problem.”

Dr. Sederer said that once doctors were convinced that a quantitative score worked in recognizing depression, they would be more open to using similar measures for other areas of mental health.

Still, he acknowledged that “nobody likes to be measured” and said that there had been some resistance from doctors who worried that this would take away from already limited time with patients and add to their workload. The science behind screening is mixed. In studies of patients who belong to health maintenance organizations in California and Washington, researchers have found that screening, when combined with programs that coordinate treatment, does help many adults who are struggling with depression and who would otherwise receive little or no care.

But in May, the Preventive Services Task Force, a federal panel of experts that advises doctors and the government on screening guidelines, concluded that there was not enough evidence to recommend a similar kind of screening for suicide risk. The controversy is not likely to be settled soon.

“I have been getting a lot of attention on this, and it runs across the political spectrum, from civil libertarians on the left to Christians on the right,” Representative Paul said. “I think the idea of screening people, of asking these kinds of questions, rubs people the wrong way, and particularly when it’s their children.”

Officials in New York, however, defend their initiative. “Depression is a leading illness in New York City, but it can be effectively treated,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “Our surveys show that there are an estimated 400,000 New Yorkers with depression; many have not been accurately diagnosed or effectively treated.”

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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Press Release
For Immediate Release
Comfortably Numb officially selected for the New York International Film and Video Festival

April 12, 2005

“Comfortably Numb,” has been officially selected by the New York International Film and Video Festival which will take place in New York City and will be shown Sunday, May 1st, Noon, at the Village East Theater at 12th Street and 2nd Ave.

Comfortably Numb, a low-budget Indie, is a riveting short documentary that portrays the devastating effects of psychiatric drugs prescribed to more than 8 million American children. Children as young as two years old are being given powerful, mind-altering drugs, most of which have not been properly tested or approved for use in children. This Documentary pierces the wall of secrecy that surrounds the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry and exposes the flaws in a system that creates riches for some while it devastates the lives of others.

Gloria Berman, the Director/Producer of Comfortably Numb, born and brought up in NYC, was able to deliver an artistically intriguing work that packs a powerful message: we must heed the warning against casual acceptance of drugging our children.

Through interviews with medical experts, David Cohen, Ph.D., and Barry Duncan, Psy. D., Berman taps into a kaleidoscope of human emotion. An especially poignant conversation with Nicole, a teenager who was prescribed an excessive amount of medication and attempted to kill herself as a result, demands that light be shed on this crisis. Although difficult, Nicole shares her story because she hopes to help other children and caution parents to observe the warning signs.

Berman was stirred when her grandson was diagnosed with ADHD. Berman’s daughter, Christina Ouillete, was subsequently told that her son had Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ultimately, that he had Bipolar Disorder. This fluctuation of medical diagnoses resulted in a constant variation in the amount and intensification of his medication. The physical effects on him were drastic, and the family decided enough was enough. His mother couldn’t believe how he changed; she knew that it was not he and that it had to be the medication.

As a result of this personal experience, Berman’s daughter sold her home to open a school for children who learn differently, the Pima Academy in Tucson, Arizona. Fortunately, Berman’s grandson has now been correctly diagnosed as having Mild Autism, and thrives with no medication.

The sacrifices of her daughter Christina, as well as the courage of Nicole, and other children she observed, inspired Berman to make this film in order to shed light on a serious problem that continues to grow in the United States. Her passion about this crisis has compelled Berman to start another film that will offer alternative approaches for parents and teachers. “It breaks my heart to see families suffering when there are other options,” said Berman. “I see children receive diagnosis after diagnosis, I see children who attempt suicide, children who die as a result of taking medications. This has to stop.”

For more information, or to make a contribution to the Best Horizons Foundation, a non-profit organization, please visit www.besthorizons.com.