Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here We Go Again...The So-Called "Rise" in Cases of Childhood Mental Illness

Photo Courtesy of Mauro Barsi
    Here we go again. Another research study published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics brings us news of significant increases in incidences of mental illnesses in children in this country.
     It's enough to make you sick.
     Here is the quotation from the study report's abstract that I find most problematic:

     "For the first time since the NHIS began tracking childhood disability in 1957, the rise in reported prevalence is disproportionately occurring among socially advantaged families. This unexpected finding highlights the need to better understand the social, medical, and environmental factors influencing parent reports of childhood disability."

      Is it obvious to everyone else as well that the reported prevalence which is apparently disproportionately occurring among socially advantaged families is because these are the families whose children are more likely to have access to the kind of medical care that offers children medication for ADD, ADHD, and an entire host of other diagnosed mental illnesses that seem to be appearing so frequently now in classrooms around this country? How on earth could the researchers who did this study find themselves blindsided by their demographic findings?
     What we have in this country is a catastrophic failure of our educational systems and our parenting abilities coming together in a climate in our health care system that defines individuals in terms of their departure from an imaginary norm. 
     There is plenty of responsibility to go around - but there are few takers. We have teaching to tests and we have statewide standards; we have enrichment programs and we have supplemental programs. We have zealous adults who do parenting. We have physicians who are too busy to take coffee breaks.
     We have very little that takes into account that some of the brightest children in our schools are bored out of their minds. Boredom looks like daydreaming. Daydreaming is now pathologized and called ADHD. Individual children - the daydreamers whose creativity could fuel our culture for centuries - are labeled and medicated. 
     These are the children who get brought in for medical evaluations by parents who unwittingly believe that diagnosis and a pill will undo what their own busy schedules have likely potentiated in the first place: their children are not being given the stimulation and supportive attention at home that children need in order to thrive. Parents are so busy learning about how to be good parents by reading and attending classes and staying current with research that they forget their primary responsibility to their offspring is to be present to them in their unique splendor.
     Who suffers most? The same people who always suffer when schools and parents lose their bearings: the children whose right to being protected by their elders is obliterated in misguided school politics and inadequate parenting styles.
     We have a crop of children growing up now under the influence of medications that are altering the very structures of their brains. We have no longitudinal studies to indicate the long-term effects because we haven't been at this medicate-the-kids business for long enough to have meaningful data.
     How can this be a good thing?
     The American Psychiatric Association (with their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5) in conjunction with the pharmaceutical companies have created a monster. If every little quirk is a disorder, and every little disorder is medicated, how many of our children will be lost in the woods?
     If your child is showing signs of distress at home or in the classroom, talk to him, talk to her. Even better, of course, is to talk to your child as an infant, support your toddler's curiosity and investigation of the world, and be present as a parent - an adult caregiver - from the moment of conception.
     If you find you cannot talk to your child with comfort, or if you feel it is more stressful than fruitful at this point, work with a counselor. Talk about the counseling with the family. Include everyone. A child is a member of a family, and a family is a system.
     Medication is the last recourse, when all other changes have been tried without success.