The bill was passed unanimously by the Illinois Senate.
Barbara Shaw doubles as chairperson of the ICMHP and director of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority. She readily admitted that the ICMHP's draft plan served as the first prototype of at least a segment of what the NFC was advocating. "What is happening in Illinois is a testing ground for the President's New Freedom report goals," she told Psychiatric Times.
Shaw argued that the opposition in the state to the draft's support for screening of children and pregnant women was based on a misunderstanding of the kind of screening being advocated and, perhaps more broadly, on a mistrust of the mental health establishment in general. The ICMHP is promoting mental health screenings for children as part of their regularly scheduled physical well-child checkups. "We are advocating social and emotional screenings which point out areas of developmental support a child may need, from their parents for example, in areas such as coaching to remediate aggressive behavior," she explained. "We want to step in so we can prevent more serious mental problems from developing."
But critics of the recommendations--a vocal minority according to Shaw--misconstrued the screening recommendation to imply that the ICMHP wanted all children to undergo mandatory screening with troubled children being labeled as "mentally ill" and being pushed, by schools or the state, into medication regimens. "These are people who feel the schools have no place futzing with their children's mental health," she explained. "They also distrust psychotropic medications."
Nada Stotland, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College in Chicago and secretary of the American Psychiatric Association, pointed out that the objective of the original state law was to help children whose mental difficulties were getting in the way of their learning. "We wouldn't expect teachers to ignore kids who were wheezing because of asthma, would we?" she asked PT in wonderment. Moreover, she is amazed that anyone could object to mental health screening for pregnant women.
Several major medical societies have advocated screening for pregnant women. "We screen pregnant women for diabetes and hypertension," said Stotland. "Why wouldn't we screen them for depression? I mean, come on, we have seen women jumping out of windows, drowning themselves, killing their babies. It is nothing more than a manifestation of a stigma that we wouldn't want to screen these women.
"This whole hysteria in Illinois seems to be the same kind as got currency from the New Freedom Commission report recommendations," she added.
Michael F. Hogan, Ph.D., chairperson of the NFC and director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health, said the NFC did not recommend universal screening of children or adults, pregnant women or otherwise. "We said children should be screened in settings where children of high risk are known to be present, such as in juvenile detention settings," Hogan told PT. "We also recommended expansion of mental health screening in schools and early childhood settings."