TeenScreen and the Created Crisis


December 19, 2005


A spate of articles have appeared recently in newspapers across the country focusing on youth suicide.  Included in the majority of those articles is mention of TeenScreen, a program emanating from Columbia University.  TeenScreen brags, on their website, of their presence in all but a few of the fifty states (Alabama, Kansas, Maryland, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming). 


















































Before going further, it seems prudent to examine the incidence of youth suicide over a several year period.  We shall use the most up-to-date data, coming from the Centers for Disease Control, starting in the year 1981 and ending in 2002.  This data is for all races, both sexes, with an age range of 0 to 19 years of age. The numbers represent deaths per 100,000 populace in the given age range.


Suicides in the given cohort are less now than they were in 1981, reaching their highest peak in 1988.  So, pray tell, why is there a “crisis” now when there obviously wasn’t in the peak year of 1988?


We can find the answer in the cover letter of the Presidents New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (NFC).  It is of interest to note, at this point, that Michael Hogan who headed the Presidents New Freedom Commission on Mental Health is also on the advisory council of TeenScreen.   Are we to believe that Hogan’s position as head of the New Freedom Commission is not connected to the recognition TeenScreen received in the NFC report; and the benefit TeenScreen will obviously incur as a result of that recognition? 


The cover letter to the NFC report, signed by Michael Hogan, states,


“You charged the Commission to study the mental health service delivery system, and to make recommendations that would enable adults with serious mental illnesses and children with serious emotional disturbance to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. We have completed the task.”


The created crisis:  children with serious emotional disturbance must be able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities.  Of course, while that sounds wonderful, the proof is in the pudding so to speak and what we have found, repeatedly, with the transformation of any system, is that the system is not about helping those caught in it, but rather, is about meeting its goals (exit outcomes).  In this capacity, the people caught in the system become nothing more than fodder in a grist mill with accountability being to the system, not to the people.


Quite obviously, the crisis having been created, TeenScreen is there to save the day and certainly reap the profit.  After claiming the TeenScreen program to be based on research, one newspaper, The St Louis Post-Dispatch, actually printed a retraction, stating,


The TeenScreen program was developed by Columbia University in 1991. Its creator said it was based on studies of teens who had committed suicide. The program is not based on more recent research involving brain imaging, as was suggested in a report on the front page of Sunday's editions.”  (posted December 13, 2005)


Too much of what is being passed off as research today, quoted liberally and incessantly and supported by so-called experts,  meets the adage that a lie repeated often enough becomes truth.


As an example of present-day research, consider this:  When the early childhood initiative came to Washington State, the research supposedly backing this initiative was never referred to by name but spoken of thusly, “We now know …” obviously to give it the air of authority. 


But what did we know?  How did we know it?  Who did the research?  Under what conditions and criteria did they do the research?  Is the research valid and reliable?  All pertinent questions that needed to be asked and answered.


Research, to be credible, reliable and valid, must follow certain criteria:


1.      It must be conducted by an independent entity — one that is not connected by association, practice, or finances to the program being studied.

2.      There must be an observable research design.  That means:

a.      That a control group (not in the studied program) and an experimental group (in the program) are used which are in every conceivable way identical except for the program being evaluated.

b.      That the groups are sufficiently large to draw conclusions.

c.      That the conditions under which the program is conducted are not biased toward either the control or experimental group (for example, both groups gets equal instructional time).

d.      That the program be of adequate duration to fairly examine it.

e.      And that the evaluation of the program results be conducted in an objective, neutral manner.

3.      The results must be reproducible.  Another research team, operating separately, must be able to obtain the same results using the same methodology.

4.      The results cited must be directly traceable to the program being studied (for example, if a patient is given a new medicine and shows improvement, but continues to improve after the medicine is discontinued, then a researcher cannot conclude that the new medicine was the reason for the improvement of the patient).

5.      Program results must be evaluated externally and objectively, not in a closed circle where the program is only tested against criteria it establishes.  For example, tests are written to exactly match an OBE curriculum and no other testing instruments are allowed to judge the success of the new program.  The program's claims of success must be observable through outside measurements.


I requested of the governor’s office the research to which he was continually referring as “We now know …  What I received was a stack of magazine articles.  This was the “research” supporting the early childhood initiative.  It was very obvious, in the absence of any valid and reliable research, that the early childhood initiative was not in the best interests of parents or children; that it was nothing more than a political agenda.


It is important, at this point, to digress for a moment.  Ask yourself this — when has any social issue, in which the government became involved, ever been cured or resolved?  Let’s see, since the Johnson Administration, back in the early 1960’s, we’ve had, for example, the War on Poverty.  Then there’s been the War on Drugs since the 1980’s.  Have either of these so-called “wars” been won?  No.  You have to ask yourself, with the billions (or is that trillions?) of taxpayer dollars that have been poured into these so-called “wars”, why not?


Maybe the better question would be, why would they?  After all, if the problem is cured, the government doesn’t need that money and with the problem cured, the size of government would logically shrink.  Does shrinking in size serve the interests of government?  No, of course not.  Government as an entity seeks power and position.  It can only do that if it grows and can continually justify that growth and the need for further growth.  Our Founding Fathers intended a limited form of government, the size of which to be curtailed by a people who wished to remain free.  To this end, our United States Constitution gave to the congress very limited powers (Article I, Section 8) and many limitations (Article I, Section 9).  To protect states’ rights, the Tenth Amendment was the last amendment of the Bill of Rights reserving to the people and states those powers not expressing delegated to the United States. 


But the intent of the U.S. Constitution would only stand if people took an active role in maintaining the limited form of government.  And that has not happened.  The result has been a continually growing government that has developed a voracious appetite for power and position. To that end, the government will do that which serves its purposes, irrespective.  And curing social problems is not in its best interests, especially when there is no accountability for the money spent and there hasn’t been.  This is why the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs have never been won; why not one social problem in which the government has become involved has ever gotten better.  Now we have the War on Terrorism and that one promises to cost more than all of the others combined and will never be won either.


Remember after Hurricane Katrina, and after the half-baked, totally bungled response by FEMA, President Bush going on record to say the federal government needed more authority to deal with disasters like this?  That remark wasn’t about saving lives, property or anything else; that remark was about more money, more power, more growth in federal government.  Taxpayer money is not being spent to cure problems, taxpayer money is being spent to subsidize problems because that is the only way government can justify bigger and more intrusive government. 


What do we actually know today about brain function?  What we actually know, as opposed to think, is that we do not know enough about how the brain functions to state definitives in this regard.  That, people, is what we know.  Considering the intricacies of the brain, it is questionable whether we will ever know.


When Governor Gary Locke stated, “We now know …” his statement fell into the realm of a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.  When I suggested to the Early Childhood Commission, established by the executive order of Governor Locke, that they bring Dr John Bruer, author of the Myth of the First Three Years to our state to address the commission, as they had brought Rob Reiner to the state, they declined.  Why did they decline?  What Dr Bruer would obviously have to say didn’t comport with the agenda of the Early Childhood Commission; an agenda that had nothing to do with what was best for parents or children but had everything to do with getting the government inside the home, increasing the power and position of the government, justifying more money, more growth, more power at the expense of the family. 


Consider this comment, made by Rob Reiner on February 4, 1997, at the National Governor’s Association (NGA) conference, the same conference where Governor Locke obtained his “research”,


They [the people of the US] are going to ask for... government coming into your home and telling you how to raise your children ... Then we as policy makers ... can say okay, these are the programs we can lay out for you ... I think there will be eventually a critical mass. It is just a matter of time.”


Government schools are no exception to the rule of government subsidizing problems.  Today schools have school counselors, psychologists, and social workers.  None of these individuals have passed a state medical exam that would be required of them to practice in the private sector.  A clinician is someone who has successfully completed the rigorous education and training required to pass a state medical exam to practice as a licensed physician in a given field of medicine.  That training is required in the best interests of the health and safety of the general public.  And the time required for that education and training goes far beyond four years at a university or even two years post-graduate; it goes beyond obtaining a masters degree or even a doctorate degree.


School counselors, psychologists and social workers do not have that rigorous training.  They are minimally trained, do not have a license to practice medicine of any kind, and carry certification from the state department of education.  That’s it.  One of the articles appearing in The St Louis Post-Dispatch makes it appear that innocuous type activities such as screening children is all these people do.  That is absolutely untrue.  Counseling is what psychologists, social workers and counselors do, and that counseling involves assessing children, counseling children, and addressing mental and behavior issues.  And the assessments these people make, the profiles they complete on children become part of that child’s “life-long” electronic transcript or dossier of accumulated information, all coded according to the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) SPEEDE/ExPRESS data element and subset codes.  These electronic transcripts will be made available to prospective employers.


A document coming out of the Richland School District in Washington State a few years back contained bar codes that could be scanned for both children’s names and “observable behaviors.”  These bar codes, part of the Learner Profile, were accessed using a forerunner to the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) — a hand-held portable device on which information can be entered, stored, and transferred to a computer.  In the advertisement for the hardware and software, it is stated: 


using … a list of observables you can create, you can instantly record observations anywhere … in the classroom, lab, shop, basketball court — even on a field trip.  At the end of the day, your observations can be electronically transferred to your computer.”


It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to figure out the “observables” that would be created by a school psychologist, counselor or social worker.  Take that one step further and imagine the “observables” that could be created by an over-zealous school psychologist, counselor or social worker after being exposed to the TeenScreen screening form where the criteria for the various supposed disorders associated with suicide are listed.  In an article published by The New York Times, the paper — referring to the work of the founder of TeenScreen, David Shafer, now chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University — stated,


“He (David Shaffer) studied records of 140 teenagers who committed suicide during the 1980's in and around New York City. Most exhibited at least one of three characteristics. The first was depression. The second was alcohol abuse - found in two-thirds of the 18-year-olds. And the third was aggression - beating somebody up or punching walls.”


Just imagine how many children could be labeled using that criteria?


How does a school and school district justify the salary and position of school social worker, psychologist or counselor?  That can only happen if children continually need their services, justifying the FTE (Full Time Equivalent) money.  Placing children in special needs programs (what used to be called special education), labeling them for special services, whether the children actually need those services, is how the positions and salaries are justified. 


Take the case of the mother who discovered her Hispanic son, born in the United States, a United States citizen whose primary language was English, was placed in an ESL (English as a Second Language) class.  This is a program funded by federal money.  When she went to the school; she was given the cold shoulder.  When she threatened to contact the US DOE her son was suddenly transferred to another class and the school was quick to state the matter was “a mistake”.  But all the time her son was in that ESL program, losing valuable time that could have been spent on a worthy endeavor (if there is such a thing in government schools today), the school was applying for and receiving FTE money from the feds. 


This is an all too common practice.  Schools have learned that if you want more money, place more children in special needs programs.  It isn’t the children who are truly in need of special services that the schools want.  Just ask parents who have fought with the schools, and ended up suing the schools, to get the special services their truly disabled or deficient child needs.  Schools are not reticent to state that providing special services to truly disabled or deficient children is too expensive.  The schools want children who really don’t need the services but who can fill an FTE seat in a classroom where students are labeled in need of special services.  And all the while the child is sitting in that seat and the school is collecting that money, the child is losing valuable time that could have been spent at a more worthy endeavor (if, again, there is such a thing in government schools today).


On October 21, 2004, President Bush signed into law the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act [P.L. 108-355].  This law has the distinction of being the nation’s first youth prevention suicide law claiming “that youth suicide is a public health crisis linked to underlying mental health problems.”  It authorized $82 million in the form of federal grants over the next three years for suicide prevention programs, including voluntary screening programs like TeenScreen.  The grants will be administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and address state-sponsored suicide prevention and intervention initiatives for youth, suicide prevention efforts for college campuses, and a national suicide prevention resource center. 


Once again, the federal government, through de facto contracts (grants) that violate the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is expanding its power and position.  Who will benefit?  Obviously, according to its website, TeenScreen is set to benefit.


Besides the fact that no “crisis” exists beyond that created, the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) has stated the following regarding suicide screening:


“The USPSTF found no evidence that screening for suicide risk reduces suicide attempts or mortality. There is limited evidence on the accuracy of screening tools to identify suicide risk in the primary care setting, including tools to identify those at high risk (see Clinical Considerations). The USPSTF found insufficient evidence that treatment of those at high risk reduces suicide attempts or mortality. The USPSTF found no studies that directly address the harms of screening and treatment for suicide risk. As a result, the USPSTF could not determine the balance of benefits and harms of screening for suicide risk in the primary care setting.”


There is not one shred of evidence that TeenScreen has, can or will prevent suicide or that it can accurately identify youth at-risk for suicide. 


Articles appearing in The St Louis Post-Dispatch, The New York Times, and The Star-Ledger (New Jersey), have glorified school counselors, psychologists and social workers as some kind of savior of children.  Not so.  One article, appearing in The St Louis Post-Dispatch, quoted a mother who praised the “free counseling session” her daughter received after being flagged with a mental disorder following a TeenScreen session.  Had the mother not received the “free counseling session” would she have done anything?  Obviously not.  While she admitted she knew her daughter had been sleeping a lot before the screening, she did nothing about it.  Parents who believe their children have a mental disorder have a responsibility to seek professional help through their family or primary care physician.  The truism that “you get what you pay for” is one parents would do well to remember, especially when it comes to something as crucial and critical as the mental well-being of their children.


The number of school shooters found to have been on psychotropic drugs should send parents a very strong message concerning children and these type drugs — they are not necessarily a good combination; they can be lethal, they can have deadly consequences.  Even the government has come forward saying these drugs can lead to suicide ideation, especially in youth.  Yet here we have TeenScreen pushing kids to be labeled for a mental disorder for which these drugs can be prescribed.  Is this what a responsible, caring organization does?  Hardly.


Jane Pearson, PhD, head of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in an article published on the NAMI website, has stated,


“For example, a prevention program designed for high-school aged youth found that participants were more likely to consider suicide a solution to a problem after the program than prior to the program.”


Read it again, parents, and heed the warning.  One child committing suicide after being exposed to so-called prevention programs like TeenScreen is one child too many.  And while TeenScreen would undoubtedly deny their screening caused the suicide, the product they are peddling carries no disclaimer stating that there is not one shred of evidence that TeenScreen has, will, or can prevent suicide.


That kids today are more stressed, more depressed, is not up for debate.  The solution is.  School counselors, social workers and psychologists screening and referring kids is not a solution.  It is a justification for receiving a paycheck, receiving and spending more taxpayer dollars, more government intrusion in the family, more government control over the family, more destruction of the familial unit.


The solution lies in what we do not have — an education system educating children for intelligence.  Instead we have a dumbed down system of education intended to produce a world-class worker — psycho-education where …


“… the real purpose of education is not to have the instructor perform certain activities but to bring about significant changes in the students’ patterns of behavior, it becomes important to recognize that any statement of the objectives … should be a statement of changes to take place in the student.”  (Tyler, 1949)


Children are stressed; children are depressed … why wouldn’t they be?  They aren’t getting an education.  Their time in school is being spent demonstrating mastery of the wanted behaviors, the new basics: team player, critical thinking, making decisions, communication, adapting to change and understanding whole systems (WTECB; 1994).  They are being shortchanged by adults who should know better.


The United States Government, in cooperation with your state government, has proudly brought you this dumbed down system of psycho-education.  And since its full-blown implementation, in the early 1990’s, we have watched a steady increase in youth violence, whether in society or in the schools.  The government created this problem, and the government will do what is necessary to subsidize the problem to warrant more money, more growth and more power. 


Those benefiting from the subsidizing of the problem are organizations such as TeenScreen.


Those paying the price in this instance are the children.




A Guide to Implementation of the SPEEDE/ExPRESS Electronic Transcript; Committee on the Standardization of Postsecondary Education Electronic Data Exchange (SPEEDE); American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers; Technical Advisory Group on the Exchange of Permanent Records Electronically for Students and Schools (ExPRESS); National Center for Education Statistics; Council of Chief State School Officers; May 1994.

Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America; New Freedom Commission on Mental Health; 2003.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports; 1981-1998

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports; 1999-2002.

Danger Signs”; Paul Raeburn; The New York Times; December 5, 2005.

The Genesis of President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health”; Sue Weibert; OpEdNews.com; December 15, 2005.

Governor Locke’s Validated Research”; LEARN; Early Childhood Development and Learning; Lynn Stuter; 1998.

High Skills, High Wages; Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board (WTECB); Washington State; 1994; p 65.

Meant to save lives; survey now under siege”; Bev McCarron, The Star-Ledger, December 13, 2005.

Corrections”; St Louis Post-Dispatch; December 13, 2005.

Recommendation and Rationale; Screening for Suicide Risk”; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), May 2004.

Science tries to find secrets of teen brains”; St Louis Post-Dispatch; December 10, 2005.

Screening Prompts Fears of False Labels”; St Louis Post-Dispatch; December 13, 2005.

“Suicide in the United States; Jane Pearson, Ph.D.; National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); 2001.

Teencreen website.

Tyler, Ralph; Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction; Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1949; p 44.


© 2005 Lynn M Stuter – All Rights Reserved