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June 14, 2005

Controversy over Diagnosing Children Early

The argument over diagnosing children with a mental illness as early as possible has strong pro and con arguments. Those who want children to be closely monitored for initial signs of mental illness cite the fact that the sooner one is diagnosed with a disorder, the sooner they can be treated for that disorder. But opponents to this worry over what would happen if children were forcibly tested and medicated. As the Chicago Tribune states, "Critics say that such initiatives are what is truly terrifying. Conservative and anti-government Web sites have been buzzing for months about how such plans will lead to children being forcibly tested, unfairly labeled--and even drugged. Most of all, opponents say that watching out for mental disorders is the responsibility of parents, not institutions" (Chicago Tribune, June 5, 2005).

Another worry is of the stigma associated with having a mental disorder. It is difficult enough for teenagers and adults to deal with the social reproach that is associated with telling others about their disorder. Anyone who has even a slight remembrance of elementary school can remember how cruel kids can be to one another during that stage of their lives. Hopefully all records would be kept confidential, but the discrimination that could ensue by teachers, day care guardians, and the rest have left many skeptical of the benefits of mandated "mental checkups".

Another compelling argument for early diagnosis is that mental illness is treated best when it is caught earlier on. "As with cancer or diabetes, mental illness is most responsive to therapy when caught early, said Dr. Carl Bell, a child psychiatrist and president of the Chicago Community Mental Health Council. When left untreated, mental illness places children at higher risk for dropping out of school, substance abuse, criminal activity and suicide. School officials already patrol for everything from tuberculosis to head lice, and mental illness should be no different, he said. 'All they're doing is jacking it up a notch,' said Bell, calling this one of the most urgent public health issues of the day. 'We're at the point where it's going to become unethical not to do these things--just as, in 2005, it is not ethical to deny a child a polio or a smallpox shot'" (Chicago Tribune, June 5, 2005).

How soon this will actually be acted upon is arguable, but there is no doubt that it will be at the forefront of childhood mental illness advocacy within the next few years.

For more news stories on Childhood Bipolar Disorder go to: http://www.moodswing.org/bpnews/archive/cat_childhood_bipolar_disorder.html

The source of this article was The Chicago Tribune.

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