Posts Tagged ‘childhood diagnosis’

Prescribing psychiatric medications to children has become both commonplace and taboo simultaneously. PBS Frontline has a special exploring the issues of effectiveness, safety, and legitimacy of these medications as well as the wisdom of diagnosing young children with bipolar disorder. The Medicated Child tells the story of some of these kids and the pitfalls of the medication fix.

I’m all for medication for mental illness; believe me, before I was on meds I didn’t think that I would make it to 20 years old. I knew that I would commit suicide or develop a drug addiction to try to escape the unbearable lows that come with bipolar. It was a simple fact of my life. Medication made all the difference for me. But diagnosing a child– a 4 or 5 year old– with bipolar disorder and putting them on medications that can rewire their brain and chemical balances for the rest of their lives? It makes absolutely no sense. Yet there has been a 4000% increase in children diagnosed with bipolar between 1996 and 2008.

Many of the kids featured in The Medicated Child obviously have behavioral and emotional problems, but how much of that is caused by developing brain structure or the home environment? How many more “symptoms” are really just side effects of taking powerful anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers? Is it really necessary to label a child as bipolar and stuff pills down their throat? I understand that a lot of these parents are simply at the end of their rope. They’ve tried everything that they can think of to get their children to act “normal” and medication is just another stop in the journey to control their kids. It would be incredibly difficult and heart-breaking to watch your child react explosively to the littlest situations and I can understand the allure of a diagnosis. A diagnosis for your child means that you haven’t done anything wrong. It means that outside of medication, you don’t have to worry about trying every minute of the day to make your child be okay. There’s nothing more that you can do to help them, besides working with their doctors. The everyday struggle to ensure your child’s safety would be almost too much for any parent to handle and the desperation that it would cause is understandable.

There are obviously children that don’t behave or react in the accepted norm of childhood behavior and development, but why does the answer have to be harsh chemicals? I don’t see why these kids can’t be in therapy. Child psychologists that are worth their degree can be hard to find, but I feel like they would help these children a lot more than sedatives and atypical anti-psychotics. Children can’t express themselves in the same capacity that adults can, so how do we know that these outbursts and tantrums aren’t the caused by situational forces rather than a chemical imbalance? Starting a child in therapy before medicating would make sense, even if in the end medication becomes the more effective option. Talk therapy has a much lower chance of creating mental trauma, poor health, and lack of scholastic progress than these medications being used off-label in children.

Relating this back to myself (because I’m self-centered), I’m glad that I was diagnosed as a teenager because it gave me time to learn how to balance my medications and my life before I really had a life to screw up. I fiddled around with my medications and had my bad reactions before I had these responsibilities and obligations that could really set back my life. I graduated high school two years late because of my bipolar, but I don’t have credit card debt caused by hypomania spending, I’ve never been fired from a job for calling in sick when I couldn’t get out of bed because of depression, and I don’t have any kids that would have had to live through my mood swings and medication side effects. I don’t think that psychiatrists should wait until patients are 18 years old before helping them, but there has to be a line.

For Christ’s sake, let’s have some common sense. A 14 year old, despite the hormone changes, could probably be accurately diagnosed with a mental illness. But to say that a toddler’s tantrums are caused by bipolar is absolutely ludicrous in my opinion. Even if a 2 year old grows up to have bipolar, that doesn’t mean that doctors should medicate the toddler “just in case”.

Bipolar disorder is hell. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, nor would I want someone to suffer with the disorder when there is a treatment available. However, too much is at stake for children to be prescribed potentially dangerous medications if there isn’t a need for it and there are other options.It’s negligent at best, child abuse at worst. The fact that over one million children (according to TMC) think that there is something wrong with them, that they need to “act normal”, is a depressing fact. Children are learning and growing all the time. It seems cruel to me to tell a kid that they’re not normal or that they have a disorder when they could possibly grow out of those symptoms or develop more refined emotional control and awareness. “If you don’t take these meds you will keep acting wrong” just seems like the wrong message to be telling these kids.

The Medicated Child was both disheartening and eye-opening. I’m glad that I watched it because it showed me just how prevalent diagnosing children really is. The only other thing that I can say is that I hope that neuroscientists soon develop a more conclusive test for all mental illnesses to try to save these kids from having to grow up before they really have to. Tell me what you think about this documentary! I want to know your opinions and experiences.



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