Jake Wiskerchen is a Reno-area Marriage and Family Therapist and National Certified Counselor, and the owner of Zephyr Wellness, an outpatient counseling agency. He recently authored a fantastic article in the Nevada Independent on the insanity of masking children - and the terms of our state’s exemption policy for K-12 students. Please go read the entire article; it is a rational assessment of the situation and the challenges this policy places on children and families. Following the publication of his article, Jake was kind enough to join us for an in-depth written interview to expand on the subject.
He also recently appeared on the Tom Woods Show to discuss his work with Walk the Talk America, an organization that works to provide mental health support and tools to gun owners, and to build connections between the 2A community and mental health professionals in an effort to reduce suicide by firearm. You can listen to the episode here.
Enjoy the interview!
Q: I had not realized that there were essentially no masking exemptions available to children. It sounds like the school system’s position is “if you aren’t capable of wearing a mask, you shouldn’t be in school anyway”. Who do you think is most harmed by this policy?
A: Technically speaking, Directive 048 is the "law of the land" and the guidance issued by DHHS is just that: guidance. But we all know the chilling effect guidance has when the (far less informed) public just sees it land in their inboxes and printed on official State letterhead. A large part of why I do what I do with podcasts, videos, and articles is simply to give people information so that they can make proper decisions. Unfortunately that's only half of it, the other half is having the courage to say, "You're wrong for these reasons..." and that leads me to answer your question, which is ultimately, the people.
The people, broadly speaking, are most harmed because they get told something that is not enforceable law, yet carries the impression that it is, which then leads to a stifling of discussion or opposition, which then leads to oppression via coercion. A well-constructed piece of authoritarian policy takes a lot of effort to dismantle, especially when it draws its supposed authority from thin evidence that appears scientific, makes lots of references, and is laden with self-referential fallacies and circular logic, all wrapped in scary sounding legalese. If the government sends enough of these kinds of things - say, in the form of executive orders - then eventually the people wear out. After all, the government usually has more resources than the commoner.
Q: This quote from the state’s K-12 exemption guidance stood out to me: “This is a difficult time for children who suffer from anxiety. Parents can support them by modeling appropriate mask wearing and providing factual, reality-based information about COVID-19.” (emphasis added). What factual & reality-based information do you think is most needed in this conversation with our anxious children, and what is being ignored by our local policy makers?
A: Age dependent of course, I think what needs to be shared with children is the statistical probability of getting severely (read: hospitalized or worse) ill with covid...versus every other risk in life. Show the older kids - say, middle school and above - some actuarial tables on child mortality rates and causes of death. For the younger kids, tell them it's a sickness like any other sickness and they have very little to worry about. Don't say "nothing" because that's simply untrue and we don't want to use binary language when we can avoid it. But we can help them understand data without teaching them to be afraid of the very air they breathe, which is literally what we are presently doing with the mask mandates. In nearly all cases, I favor education over restriction, and my experience tells me that when treated with age-appropriate interactions, children perform well beyond our expectations of them. It is when we coddle them that they fail.
As for what is being ignored by policymakers, it's raw data. The raw numbers show us that covid in children is not a risk. In fact, it presently sits at 12th in childhood mortality causes. Be honest with people and tell them what is happening. That's the solution. Again, offer information, not restriction, and definitely don't restrict the information.
Q: It seems clear that the impact of school masking on children will vary somewhat based on their age (eg: children learning to speak are harmed in a different way than teenagers are). Your article referenced the increase in suicidal ideation among children - can you speak to this & what you think are the widest/most profound impacts of this policy?
A: This is a tough one and I want to make sure I separate the suicidal ideation from the policy itself. I don't want to imply causation, although there certainly could be some, but I do want to paint the picture that the overall restrictions - and I mean all of them, from distance learning to exclusions to mask and testing mandates - are likely resulting in an increase in overall poor mental health. Along with that will inevitably come an uptick in suicidal ideation and attempts. We have seen this all over, from SOS screenings in schools to pediatric ER admissions. This is not debatable. What is debatable is the cause. I am of the opinion that isolation results in more social media involvement, which then becomes its own form of cocooning isolation. Jonathan Haidt writes a lot about this so I won't dive in here, but if you're curious about the impacts of social media on children of all ages, read his stuff and also check out letgrow.org.
True to my trend so as not to point out a problem without a solution, the way we battle it is by returning to the nuclear family some nuclear family concepts. Shut off non-school device use after a certain hour. Eat dinner together. Turn off external stimuli and be intimate with your kids. It's not a sophisticated solution because it's not a sophisticated problem. How is this related to the State policies? Because if we weren't sending home asymptomatic children because of "exposures" or false positive tests, their parents wouldn't have to leave work, the kids wouldn't miss their activities, and overall stress would decline.
Q: I very much appreciate your “first, do no harm” framing of this issue – and that you emphasize that these lockdowns and mask/vaxx mandates certainly did harm people. Any thoughts as to why our “leaders” completely disregarded the fact that they were very clearly causing harm?
A: Bad advice and political pressure. That's all I've got. Whomever is advising on these matters clearly didn't seek guidance from someone who is politically agnostic or these policies would not have been implemented. I have seen this in corporate healthcare, academia, and government alike: the further away you get from the ground floor, the more likely you are to forget first principles. It's Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy.
Q: What long-term societal harm do you think will follow from instructing kids to view others (and themselves) as vectors for disease? Or from telling them that their misbehavior could “kill grandma”?
A: Honestly I don't even know where to start. At minimum, I guess we could see an overall lack of willingness to participate in society because their self-efficacy will have been highly impacted that they no longer believe that their voices matter. They will have been instructed to obey and not to question. But also their belief systems will change. We will have raised children who have been taught to be suspicious of one another in ways that we've never seen before. Previously we have encountered discrimination and various -isms based on appearance, culture, sex, religion, and so forth but this time it could simply be because someone has failed to achieve the proper inoculation status as arbitraily decreed from on high. "Is that person safe" will morph into "Is that person safe enough" and the goalposts will move in perpetuity.
At maximum, war.
Q: What was it that prompted you to write this article and take this public position? Do you anticipate any blowback - professionally or otherwise?
A: Heh. I already incurred as much blowback and betrayal as one might envision when I helped rewrite most of the state laws that govern my profession. It was the right thing to do but some people simply couldn't see past the trees to get a view of the forest. I was pilloried. But in exchange for those colleagues I lost, I gained manifold more across the spectrum; voiceless people who had never before believed they could be honored and advocated for. That's a story for another day, but the same is already happening here.
I can already tell the people who read it and have honest disagreements versus the people who are just plain old rigid ideologues. I needed to write it because in my experience, the ideologues - whose identities are wrapped into their belief system and cannot tolerate examination - are frequently the ones with the loudest bullhorns and, in turn, drive policy. I will not let that happen when children (more voiceless people) and their parents (equally voiceless for other reasons; e.g., no bullhorn) are most at risk. Someone has to speak out and <surveys landscape> it looks like I'm it. But in reality the risk is very low. I did not breach ethic or law, and I am acting in accordance with my professional license practice scope. Anyone with a significant beef is welcome to delineate it through a properly filed complaint with my licensing board. Until that happens, it's all just noise. And in the end, maybe we get some people into counseling who otherwise would not have sought it out because they didn't think someone like me existed in this field.
Q: One of the biggest issues I’ve observed over the past few years has been the stifling of dissent and the phenomenon of “manufactured consensus”. What has your experience been with other professionals in your field - do they agree with you on this or do they buy-in to the official guidance?
A: As I alluded before, I don't spend a lot of time with my professional colleagues because they don't really prefer my orthodoxy-challenging company. I do, however, receive a wide assortment of industry emails spanning professional associations, peer colleague groups, and the like. Nearly all of them are sucked into the Woke Culture and along with that tends to come a blind obedience to authority. That, for those who don't know my profession well, stands staggeringly at odds with our ethical codes, but as the devil can cite scripture for his own purposes, clinicians can cite ethics as substantiation for their wokeness. Of course anyone who dares to challenge this by using the very same ethics is immediately excommunicated and looked askance. But it doesn't stop there. Those same people will teach their students and interns about the dangers of They Who Are Not Woke and from there reputations get made and life might get very hard.
Fortunately my audience is not my peer colleagues, who number in the dozens, but the market, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands. So far, it looks like our community members actually enjoy getting counseling from an agency that doesn't compel them to sign testing protocol affidavits and disclosure documents stating that their covid-positive status will be reported to the government. In other words, they like having their autonomy respected. Who knew?
Q: Do you think there are broad differences of opinion on this issue between people who work with children in the mental health space versus classroom teachers?
A: This may surprise some people, but I actually think that the percentage of teachers who are totally over it is much higher than the percentage of mental health professionals who are. I won't get into the sanctimony that pervades our profession, but I just don't see it in education. Educators work too hard. We counselors barely work at all. Quite often, 28+ hours a week is considered "burnout level" and still we complain about it.
Q: In your practice, what issues are you seeing that stem from these restrictions or from the broader COVID experience? What are the most common challenges faced by the families you support?
A: Inconsistency is the biggest challenge that's driving people crazy. Most Americans want to trust what they're told. We work hard, pay our taxes, are really loyal, super forgiving, and expect honesty. With the advent of the internet and the emergence of decentralized journalism (i.e., a camera and microphone in every pocket), a lot of the graft, corruption, and abuse has been exposed. We could talk all day about lying politicians and stuff, but the sheer level of inconsistency mouthpieced from previously trustworthy entities that's occurred over the past two years has really eroded a lot of confidence.
Now, compound that with, say, actual video footage of leaders doing hypocritical things, only to have those videos suppressed by the media platforms on which they're posted. Then compound that with a narrative that tells people they're not allowed to trust their own eyes and lived experiences (not used ironically), you get some real crazymaking. People are unmoored and they are wondering where to turn for anchoring. I almost always start with emotions because those can be trusted. Then I invite patients to find a spiritual anchoring. Then we work on community and neighborhood connectivity. You fight it by returning to reality and rolling with the tide, not by trying to alter the tide.
Q: What do you see as the broader implications of the state’s implicit assumption that centralized decision making should overrule that of individual practitioners?
A: Great question. I don't think we're there yet, but we're close. One more legislative session full of woke leftists running the building could see the adoption of an "affirming care" bill. In a nutshell, "affirming care" means the practitioner must agree with whatever the patient presents and they don't get to argue. Your kid has ADHD because you saw it on the internet? I don't get to suggest otherwise. You want medications for your depression even if the MD diagnoses a personality disorder? She had better write that script. Because to do anything else would be "unaffirming" and, therefore, mean. Or something...
This kind of thing would effectively wipe our ability to do what we need as we have been trained...and licensed. I would certainly testify against something like that and, if passed, I would probably file a suit because it would inherently run afoul of other laws that say the opposite, not to mention it would stand in the way of real, actual healing. I've never filed a lawsuit before but I probably would for this. Or I might renounce my license entirely - and LOUDLY - and then just trust the market to decide whether my services are worth it. Lotta real successful life coaches out there.
Q: Moving away from discussing masking specifically, many of us believe the federal and state governments massively overstepped their authority in the name of COVID-19 prevention. Do you think they were justified in imposing the things they imposed? Where is the line?
A: Hindsight being what it is, of course we can all decry what happened. But we don't get that luxury and to do so invites a reality that never could have been. So, to borrow a phrase from Jordan Peterson, "I won't betray my former self" and I won't begrudge those who did what they did in 2020. However, there's literally no continued justification for what is allowed to occur. I have probably consumed more literature from all sources than anyone I know who doesn't do it for a living and, glancing around the world and within our own country, we have literally zero (0) evidence to keep mandatory restrictions in place. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone. Some are well informed, some are not. But continuing the charade of authoritarian measures ostensibly because some people just don't understand yet...well that's just absurd beyond the pale.
The line for me is masks. Beyond that, vaccine mandates. I will not do the first for all the reasons laid out, plus some others. I will not do the second because, as a health care provider under NRS chapter 629, to compel my employees into medical treatment to which they do not consent puts me in both a legal and an ethical bind. If I weren't licensed by the state and beholden to ethical codes embedded by reference into law, it might be a different story. But not when I hold a license to practice and I own the company. The state would find itself in a very precarious legal position if that were forced upon me. So, no. I will not comply. And I have lots and lots of data and research to substantiate that position.
Q: The title of your article called out “bumbling policy”. That seems like a very generous interpretation of what has happened. At what point do you think we stop assuming well-intentioned errors? Do you think this is a problem of bad actors, bad incentives, or something else?
A: Very few people within State of Nevada governance are maleficent actors. Very, very few. Some are there without regard for much beyond themselves, sure, but that doesn't make them maleficent. I truly believe, for instance, that all or nearly all of our elected and appointed officials are there for what they believe are the right reasons. I won't even debate that because usually the job is so difficult and so underpaid (former unpaid licensing board chair here) that no one would do it if they were bent solely on causing intentional destruction.
That said, I do believe that because the job is hard, the staff are scarce, and the compensation typically only in the form of ego-pride, I think we get a lot of laziness mixed with deliberate selection of favorite political causes. That in itself is not maleficent. It could be anti-liberty, of course, but in my experience the people doing that kind of thing truly believe they are doing the right thing. Gun control people are a terrific example of this. I don't know a single gun control person who doesn't believe that his or her efforts won't prevent loss of life. They may be statistically incorrect or they may not see (and sometimes refuse to see, which is maleficent) the side that suggests a gun provides more safety and security, but they're not acting out of bad faith. Usually.
And so it goes with covid restrictions. The people implementing them honestly think they're doing the best thing possible. The problem enters when they reject alternate viewpoints, data interpretations, or strategy, and it's even worse when they don't see their own inconsistencies (masks on cheerleaders but not the players or fans, e.g.). That is what comes off as nefarious, pernicious, and offensive. But the original intent? I do believe that is usually pure, even if myopic.
Q: Do you have hope that the tide is turning on this issue? Or should parents assume that the system is married to this policy and plan accordingly?
A: Yes. And yes.
But seriously, this is like one of those Magic 8 Ball questions, where every time you shake the thing, it gives a different answer. Ask me again on another day and my answer might vary. All I can say is, If you like what's happening, then vote. If you don't, then you should also vote. No more complaining without action.