May 19, 2014

Drugging Kids Instead of Changing America

I am a psychiatric social worker and children's and young adult librarian. I  have 5 younger brothers, 4 grown daughters, 4  sons-in-law, 5 grandkids, 4 and under, 11 first cousins, 7 great nieces and nephews,  and 45 Younger first cousins, the mother of 4, the grandma of 4. I am also a manic depressive. It took ten years to find a medication that helped; I read about it on the Internet and shopped for a psychiatrist that would partner with me to experiment.   The other meds did far more harm than good.

I am not denying a 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. Many discovers have close ties to Big Pharm. 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.

 I believe you should not decide to drug your kids before you  take the meds for at least a month. Too often kids are being given anti-psychotics for behavior problems, anti-psychotics not tested with children. I was given them when I was hospitalized for mania in 1973, between 87 and 96. They made me much crazier when they weren't obliterating whole days. My intellect and education have not been able to withstand their devastating cognitive effects. Giving such drugs to a young mind until all alternative have been exhausted seems like malpractice.


 Until all the usual mood stabilizers went generic, anti-psychotics were intended 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 for those patients. Now they are being heavily advertised for depression and bipolar disorder as maintenance drugs.  The newer atypical anti-psychotics are heavily implicated in causing huge weight gain and sudden onset diabetes.

When my kids were young, 25-30 years ago, even in therapy-obsessed Manhattan, preschool kids weren't seeing psychiatrists, weren't taking psychiatric medications, so I am skeptical about this epidemic of very young children with serious problems requiring psychiatric drugs. If our kids were having problems in nursery school, we might decide to wait another year and find a better school.

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?

Who is demanding the economic changes required to enable parents to care for their babies and toddlers 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. 

Preschoolers 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. These diagnoses disorder
imply lifelong, incurable brain disorders for which there are no medical tests, no verifiable proof of their existence. 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?

Why would you accept that your young child has a permanently broken brain? Why not take him out of day care or fine a different one, investigate family day care, share a nanny with a friend, change nursery schools, reduce your working hours, live more frugally, borrow money and take a leave of absence from work, ask 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 and makes me want to man the barricades. I would love to find some comrades.

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