Monday April 11
TALLAHASSEE - Legislation backed by an offshoot of the Church of
Scientology aims to discourage public school students from seeking
mental health services
measure would require schools to tell
that any mental health treatment would be part of a student's
permanent record, which is true only in limited cases now.
It also would require school officials to tell parents that no medical
test can diagnose mental illness, they can refuse psychological
screening and that students can't be barred from school activities if
they refuse treatment.
The bills (HB209 and SB1766) are being pushed by the Citizens
Commission on Human Rights, or
CCHR, established in 1969 by the
to carry out
its mental health mission. Scientologists
oppose psychiatry and other mental health services.
The legislation is being fought by several mental health organizations,
including the state Office of Suicide Prevention.
The sponsors, Tampa Republican Sen. Victor Crist and Miami Beach
Republican Rep. Gustavo Barreiro, were guest speakers recently at
Scientology's anniversary celebration. Crist touted the bill at the
event and Barreiro gave the church an award for its volunteer efforts
during last summer?s hurricanes.
Barreiro acknowledged that the Scientology group approached him about
sponsoring the bill and wrote parts it. But he said he's sponsoring the
bill because he believes in it.
"The path of least resistance is to medicate rather than find creative
ways to help kids," Barreiro said. "What is the worst case scenario if
this bill passes? We move toward the middle and medicate less."
Said Crist: "Parents ultimately need to have control over their
That an arm of the church, once so controversial that politicians
avoided being associated with it, is advancing legislation to further
one of its main tenets is a testament to the success of Scientology's
recent campaign to change its image.
Mary Panton, the CCHR member lobbying for the bill, said parents should
worry that their children are labeled mentally ill.
"Parents aren't told that when you accept that label it follows you for
the rest of your life," Panton said. "All we want is for the parents to
have the full picture."
But opponents say the bill could dissuade some parents from seeking
treatment for a child with mental illness.
Mental illness is noted in student records only if the school is
involved in treatment or the illness requires special education,
according to the state Department of Education.
Opponents say the bill's backers are taking advantage of the lingering
shame over mental illness to further an anti-psychiatry agenda.
"No matter how far we have come in understanding depression as a
biochemical disease, there is still a certain amount of shame attached
to it," said Donna Sicilian, supervisor for social services for the
Pinellas County School District. "ills like these,
with the wording that was chosen, perpetuate that."
Sicilian, president of the Florida Association of School Social
Workers, said many students need some kind of mental health service,
such as counseling during divorce.
The House bill would require schools to include any mental illness
diagnosis "including depression and schizophrenia" in a student?s
permanent record, regardless of whether the student needs special
education classes to manage the disorder.
The Senate bill, which would prohibit school officials from making any
mental referrals, appears stalled.
The legislation has caught the eye of Jim McDonough, who heads the
state?s offices of drug control and suicide prevention.
Since speaking out against the bill in committee meetings, McDonough
has been bombarded by public records requests from Scientologists
asking for proof of his statement that mental illness is a biochemical
McDonough agrees that some prescription
drugs "including anti-anxiety
and antipsychotic drugs" are over-prescribed. But his greatest concern,
McDonough said, is in ensuring that potentially suicidal teenagers have
access to the mental health services.
Teenagers need to understand that mental illness is a disease that can
be treated, McDonough said.
"I do resist the abuse of prescription drugs and the unmedical use of
psychotropic drugs, but I absolutely believe in the medical basis of
mental illness,? McDonough said."