Monday, June 11, 2012

It's like watching tennis - Prof. Allen Frances criticizes new govt child mental illness screening program

Like night follows day, American Emeritus Professor Allen Frances, a psychiatrist and also a veteran of a past DSM revision, has volunteered his two-bob worth on the subject of the Gillard Government's upcoming program of mental health screening of three-year-olds, "The Healthy Kids Check", and true to form, he isn't being kind. According to Prof. Frances "There's absolutely no evidence at all that we can predict accurately who will go on to have a mental disorder", so it would appear that a program that aims to identify mental illness in little ones who aren't even old enough to go to big school would be a foolish enterprise indeed. Add to that the probability that the screening will do harm: "A label like 'autism' can be obviously devastating, but even less severe labels can have a dramatic effect on expectations, on the way the child feels about himself, his role in the family. I would be very cautious about labels, especially in young children, especially because they're so likely to be wrong."

The ABC are claiming that the Healthy Kids Check will be voluntary, but I have my doubts that parents will not be financially coerced by the federal government into submitting their young children to examination. In March 2012 the Australian parenting magazine Web Child reported that parents risk losing a Centrelink payment if they omit to "take their four year old for a mandatory health assessment." Is this the same assessment as the Healthy Kids Check?

All of the media stories that I have read about the planned program indicate that it is not limited at all to identifying mental illness, but is in fact very much geared to identifying supposed signs of autism, which is considered to be an incurable developmental disability or alternately a form of neurodiversity. In Australia mental health and early intervention are some of the biggest fads of the decade, so apparently to give this intrusive program appeal it is being sold as a form of mental health early intervention leading to recovery, a spin on the subject that is sure to offend many people who identify themselves as autistic but not mentally disordered.

Prof Frances is currently appearing in Perth, along with the Irish-Australian psychiatrist professor whom he has often spoken out against, Prof Patrick McGorry, at the Asia Pacific Conference on Mental Health. Clinical Professor Jon Jureidini and the federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler will also be speaking at this conference.

Hall, Eleanor (2012) Expert warns against child mental health checks. PM. ABC Radio National. June 11th 2012.

Asia Pacific Conference on Mental Health.

Roberts, Felicity (2012) Don't miss out on family payment. Web Child. Match 20th 2012.

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