Most people take that preventive step towards good health by going to the dentist, doctor or other medical professional for a routine checkup. Since teens today have to deal with peer pressure, bullying, changing hormones and the like, in principle, some may think it is not a bad idea to screen teens for suicide. But in practice, is it workable?
There is a program called TeenScreen which does in fact screen teens for the risk of suicide via a questionnaire filled out by the student in school. First, a consent form must be signed by the parent in order for the questionnaire to be given to the student, per the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment. However, only about half of the parents consented so “passive consent” was put into use, which increased the number of teens to be tested from 50% to 95%. What this means is that a consent form was given to the child, but if it wasn’t returned with a parent’s signature, then TeenScreen assumed the parents were okay with the program. Leslie McGuire, Co-Director of TeenScreen’s states, “Unless we hear from you that we can’t screen your child, we assume we have your permission and we’re gonna screen them.” The problem with this is no written consent is obtained so that it is illegal.
Additionally, the kids are offered movie passes, pizza parties and food coupons as an incentive to get consent from their parents. Why didn’t they contact the parents directly through regular mail or e-mail? Wouldn’t that have made more sense?
Once one is prepared to fill out a questionnaire, one fills out an Assent Form which states that participation is voluntary and one may refuse to answer any and all questions. However, the computer that processes the questionnaires is set up so that the questions that are not answered count as a positive screen, or if the parent gave consent and the teen doesn’t want to answer the questions, that is also considered a positive screen, meaning they are a suicide risk. How can not answering a question(s) be an indication of mental illness? Furthermore, Dr. David Shaffer, TeenScreen founder, said that out of those that do answer all the questions, 84% will test falsely positive! The question is, “How is this test valid?”
Once a teen tests positive as a suicide risk, the next step is to arrange treatment with a mental health provider. TeenScreen will make an appointment for you, perhaps even drive you to the appointment or follow up to make sure you went to the appointment. One is not left to consider other options such as a medical checkup, a visit to a nutritionist or any other professional that could find a biological or environmental cause. One is directed to a mental health provider who would most likely prescribe a mind-altering drug such as Cymbalta, Pristiq, Lexapro and Luvox or other psychotropic drug. These drugs have black box warnings issued by the FDA stating that these drugs may INCREASE suicidal thoughts and behavior.
In summary, TeenScreen has 84% false positive results followed by placing a teen on a drug that may increase suicidal thoughts and behavior. The initial idea was to prevent suicide, but given the methods of obtaining consent and the lack of alternative treatments, it is obvious that this does not comply with informed consent.
To find out more visit our page on Informed Consent.