November 17, 2009

Drugging Children Instead of Changing America

I do not worship at psychiatric shrines. I am a psychiatric social worker and expert librarian/researcher. In my twenties I edited world famous psychiatrists for Basic Books, Freud's American publisher. These brilliant, cultured men whose today's psychiatrists haven't heard of had not discovered that mental illness was all biochemical and did not drug their patients.

 I am also a manic depressive.  After being diagnosed in 1985, I was forcibly dosed with thorazine, stelazine, and  haldol in the loony bin,  Out of the loony bin, I have tried lithium, klonopin, depakote, tegretol, various antidepressant. All did far more harm than good.  I seem to lose my ability to write and my IQ drops 40 points.In 1996 I read about lamictal (lamotrigine) on the Pendulum Manic Depressive listserv . I also met my husband on Pendulum; his first wife, with no warning,  had gone psychotically manic, divorced him, and has refused to speak to him for 14 years.

I  shopped for a psychiatrist who would partner with me in a lamictal experiment and found Peter Stein in 1997. He, my therapist who wishes to remain anonymous,  and lamictal have tamed the manic depressive demons ever since. I was Peter's firstt lamictal patient. Now he prescribes it frequently and never gave me a cut. Lamictal  is not a magic bullet, but it does not rob me of my intellect and my writing. It tames but doesn't scare away the manic depressive demons; I have never been hospitalized. It has not eliminated the rebellious  troublemaking  and authority questioning so underappreciated  by librarians and social workers. It can cause fatal flesh-destroying rashes. I fully expect to die sooner because of my psych meds.

The few times in the last 24 years that  I or my psychiatrist deluded ourselves  that I didn't need meds anymore, I learned an expensive lesson.  I lost jobs and in a few instances landed in the loony bin.  So I am not denying any role for medication  I am not talking about ADHD drugs like ritalin. However, childhood bipolar disorder has only been discovered in the last 15 years, mostly in America. The close ties to Big Pharm of many discoverers have been exposed. Until 1995 conventional psychiatric wisdom was that bipolar disorder could only be diagnosed in the late teens. There is no conclusive study that proves childhood bipolar disorder leads to adult bipolar disorder. Psychiatrists still debate whether it exists and whether it should be included in the next edition of the psychiatric bible, the DSM. Mysteriously, children with such broken brains are mostly found in the US and the UK.

Too often kids are being given anti-psychotics for behavior problems, anti-psychotics not tested with children. When I was forced to take these drugs, they obliterated whole days. My intellect and education were not able to withstand their devastating cognitive effects. Fantasy, dreaming,  reading, reality were blurred only after I took the drugs.  Giving such drugs to a young mind until all alternative have been exhausted seems like malpractice.

Until all mood stabilizers went generic, anti-psychotics were used to treat schizophrenics and hospitalized manics.  There is a shameful record of using them on Alzheimer's sufferers. As recently as the 2004 American Psychiatric Meeting in NY, drug reps were marketing bestsellers such as abilify and seroquel only for those patients. Now they are being heavily advertised  as maintenace drugs for depression and manic depression.  These newer atypical anti-psychotics are heavily implicated in causing huge weight gain and sudden onset diabetes.

 Take your kid's prescribed meds for at least a month before giving them to him. Take a leave of absence from work; don't drive, drink or operate machinery.  Have the med bottle with you at all times to prove you haven't succumbed to instant Alzheimer's Disease. Don't make excuses.  You at least will understand what is happening to you and your brain is developed. The whole family needs to be treated by a family therapist.

 What is going wrong with the way we are raising children? Why do we look in children's brains for the answers to be found in social reform?  Who is blowing the whistle? Who is questioning the wisdom of babies and toddlers being cared for by strangers? Who is wondering whether group care is appropriate for most children under three or four? Thirty-five years ago, children were five or six before they were expected to adapt to group standards of behavior. Who is crusading for a shorter work week and greatly increased parental leaves? Who is is dedicated to make caring for preschoolers a viable career path for college graduates, comparable to teaching in salary and benefits?  Why do we expect little boys to adapt to schools better suited to girls? Why don't we train and recruit more male teachers in preschools, who might be better role models for little boys and help create more welcoming schools?

 Who is demanding the economic changes required to enable parents to spend more time caring for their young children themselves? Who is comparing our rate of childhood mental illness with rates in the rest of the Western world? Who is outraged about preschoolers taking multiple psychiatric drugs that have never been tested on children? Who is fighting to outlaw drugs ads in magazines and on TV? Why are we teaching our kids that drugs are the solution to every problem? Thirty years ago we felt like bad parents if we let our kids have caffeine.

 The aggressive drug treatment of mental illness in the last 30 years hasn't been a success story. When yesterday's wonder drug becomes generic, its ineffectiveness is suddenly discovered and its dangerous side effects are no longer covered up. Today's expensive wonder drug will supposedly save your life after being tested for a shockingly short time on shockingly few people who don't share your diagnoses.
 Young children are so unformed, so in process. This year's four year old can seem like a different creature than last year's three year old. So can this year's 14 year old.  These diagnoses disorder imply lifelong, incurable brain disorders for which there are no medical tests, no verifiable proof of their existence. Your children will be sentenced to a lifetime of discrimination and stigma.  Children with serious problems need to be treated with family therapy.

Why would you accept that your young child has a permanently broken brain? Why not change child care arrangements, pay your parents to take care of him, share a nanny with a friend,reduce your working hours and lower your career ambitions, live more frugally, sell your house and move to an apartment, borrow money and take a leave of absence from work,  your parents and relatives for help, search out books and activities about his particular obsessions, learn the recommended interventions yourself?
 Does your child need more relaxed time with his overscheduled parents rather than tense sessions with experts comfortable with diagnosing him after a few testing sessions?Why not wait until the picture becomes clearer? Why it is so urgent to find the answer when he is 2 or 3? We are not dealing with meningitis or childhood leukemia. When I hear a 7 year old rattle off all his psychiatric labels, it breaks my heart. I need some comrades to help lead the revolution.

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