Citizens Commission on Human Rights
National Affairs Office
Washington, DC

New research is further evidence of the harm to some students from mental health awareness programs that teach psychiatric terms and concepts. Citizens Commission on Human Rights advocates an end to universal psychiatric-oriented instruction in schools.

A new study adds to the research indicating that mental health awareness programs, purportedly meant to alleviate mental health problems and prevent suicides, can lead some young people to view themselves as more psychologically troubled than they really are, assign themselves a psychiatric label, and end up feeling worse about themselves. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is urging parents and school administrators to heed this research and end universal training of psychiatric concepts in schools.

A team of researchers investigated the link between assigning oneself a label of a mental disorder – in this case, depression – and how the individual copes with emotional stress. In a large sample of U.S. college students, they found that one in five (22%) had self-labeled as having depression and that this self-labeling was associated with poor coping under stress, such as by avoiding social contact, which in turn can lead to a worsening mental health condition. They noted that other research has found psychiatric labeling is linked with feeling stigmatized and a lower quality of life.

Mental health awareness programs may teach psychiatric terms and concepts, increasing the tendency for individuals to view theirs ups and downs in life as symptoms of psychiatric disorders, according to researchers in a 2023 study.  “We hypothesize that [mental health] awareness efforts may be leading to an increased and excessive tendency to interpret negative psychological experiences as mental health problems,” they wrote. This can result in unnecessary mental health treatment and prescriptions for psychiatric drugs.

Mental health awareness programs in schools can increase the tendency for youth to see themselves as having mental health problems and even worsen mental health for some, research indicates.

The researchers also cited evidence indicating that learning about symptoms of mental health conditions causes some individuals to experience those symptoms. “There is some evidence that learning about psychiatric concepts and language might indeed increase mental health problems,” they wrote.

Based on this evidence, rising rates of depression, anxiety, suicidality, and other mental health problems, widely reported as “a mental health crisis” in the U.S., could be highly inflated and unreliable as a direct result of mental health awareness programs. The psychiatric labels themselves have no scientific basis and are assigned according to the subjective opinion of the evaluator, compounding the unreliability of reports of mental health problems.

The subjective determination of a mental health problem can be a topic of conversation topic of conversation among teens, particularly girls, which increases the likelihood that additional teens will end up with a psychiatric label, according to another new study.

“It might be that they kind of get together and make things a little bit worse for each other,” said Jack Andrews, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at the University of Oxford in the U.K., who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Andrews’ most recent study, awaiting publication, delves into “the growing body of evidence [demonstrating] that school-based mental health interventions have negative outcomes in at least some young people and thus are potentially harmful for these individuals.”

“Classroom instruction that teaches psychiatric terms and concepts is harming some students and should not be any part of a school curriculum,” said Anne Goedeke, president of the CCHR National Affairs Office. “Children are being conditioned to apply psychiatric concepts to themselves and their social networks, which can lead to worsening mental health for some, as well as children being wrongly labeled and unnecessarily treated for psychiatric conditions.”