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Our Silent Holocaust

by The Next Family May 20, 2011

By: Joe Newman

According to IMS Health (one of the leading consultants for pharmaceutical companies), 24 million U.S. children were taking ADHD medications in 2009.  Additionally, 10 million children were taking anti-depressants, and 6 million were taking anti-psychotics.  The total number of children in the U.S. is approximately 75 million.

The only thing I find more shocking than these statistics is the fact that there is very little public outrage or substantive discussion about this.  Why isn’t this the number one topic of conversation among parents, educators and professionals?

In 1970 when I was diagnosed as “Hyperactive” and put on Ritalin I was one of only 50,000 children in the U.S. being medicated for behavior or attention problems.  Twenty years ago when I started working with behavior problem and special needs children there were approximately 4 – 5 million children taking ADD/ADHD medications and prescribing antidepressants or antipsychotics for children was extremely rare.

Do we as a culture really believe that between a third and a half * of all children suffer from psychological disorders severe enough to warrant being medicated?   And if we do, is anyone asking why?  Or do we lack the time and attention span to consider what is happening to our children?  Are we a country of frogs in a pot of water that is gradually getting hotter without our noticing?

What percentage of our children needs to be diagnosed as disordered before we’re willing to turn the microscope onto ourselves, our culture, and our medical paradigm?  Do we wait until viewing children as disordered is the norm and psychiatric medication is just part of what is required to grow up?  Perhaps we should call a spade a spade and admit that in this country – childhood is a disorder.

Unless we believe this epidemic is the result of some great conspiracy to drug our children and line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies (which I do not believe) then one or more of the following three facts must be true:  First, our children have changed.  If this were true then the next step would be to ask “why?”.  Second, we as parents and teachers have changed.  Perhaps we are less tolerant, too tolerant, or our schools are more demanding and rigid.  Or third, our children have always had these problems and it is only because of recent advances in psychiatry and psychopharmacology that we are now able to recognize, diagnose, and medicate them properly.

Experts in Adolescent Psychopharmacology will tell you it’s this third option.  But they’ll also admit that doctors without any psychiatric training are making the majority of diagnoses and prescriptions.  The journalPediatrics recently revealed that 8% of pediatricians felt they had adequate training in prescribing antidepressants, 16% felt comfortable prescribing them, but 72% actually did.  And a recent study by the AAP predicts that treatment of mental illness and mood disorders will soon makeup 30-40% of a pediatrician’s office practice.

So we clearly have some serious problems with the way our medical system is diagnosing and prescribing psychiatric medications to children.  But even if we didn’t, are we ready to believe that this many children are neurologically disordered?  Or do we need to question some of the underlying assumptions and paradigms on which psychiatry and psychopharmacology are based?

Here’s a broken paradigm we can start with.  Our current medical model treats the connection between one’s neurology and one’s behavior as a one-way street when we have a wealth of evidence that it is at least a two-way street.  The one-way street model goes like this: bad behavior is caused by bad brain chemistry. Make a diagnosis (a theory about what kind of chemical dysfunction is present), and then prescribe chemicals to correct or counter the effects of the bad chemistry. Bad chemistry plus corrective chemistry equals good chemistry and good behavior.

This seems reasonable enough—until you consider that, while brain chemistry causes behavior, it is also the case that behavior causes brain chemistry (two-way street). We know that if we send a soldier to the war zone in Iraq for a year, that when he comes back he may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Exposure to a set of behaviors and experiences altered his brain chemistry. If this can happen to an adult’s brain, how much more sensitive to behaviors and experiences is the very malleable brain of a child?

This leads us back to the first and second facts we must consider.  Yes, our children have changed; just ask your mother or a teacher who’s been around for twenty or thirty years.  Today’s children are more willful, more comfortable challenging authority, and less able –or willing –to focus on classroom activities.  And more children exhibit behaviors that parents and teachers aren’t equipped to effectively handle without the use of medications.

Parenting and teaching have changed as well.  The question we must now ask is how have they changed and is this change in some way responsible for the changes we’re seeing in our children?  Whatever we’re doing, we must first admit that we’re not getting a very good result.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein

This is a call to arms, a call to sanity.  It’s time to demand that any conversation about parenting or teaching begin with an honest look at, and discussion about, the diagnosing and medicating of the children in our country.

Diagnosing and medicating this many children is unacceptable.  We need to begin by moving the responsibility off the shoulders of our children and placing it squarely on our own.

“If you try to treat someone’s illness without knowing its cause you will only make the person sicker than before.” – Nichiren Daishonin

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[Photo Credit: arenamontanus]

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