Monday, October 12, 2009

Pushing back against the drugging of our nation's youth

When my son was in kindergarten, he wrestled with his classmates and bit one of them, and his teacher (who was one or two years out of school) suggested that I get him tested for "neurological issues." I ran her suggestion past my son's pediatrician, and he said that my son's behavior was well within normal range for an active five-year-old. "He doesn't need to be tested," he said.

My son is now a healthy, well-adjusted 20-year-old excelling in college. But that long-ago episode came back to me this weekend when I was listening in on several panel sessions at the ICSSP conference in Syracuse (where I had been invited to speak). The theme of the conference was how to help parents deal with difficult children through "evidence-based" interventions rather than medicating them.

The 150 doctors, therapists and school counselors in attendance were concerned not only about the deleterious side effects of many psychoactive drugs (like Risperdal, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Ritalin, Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac etc.). But they also had a lot to say about the bankrupt promise of biological psychiatry and the role that the pharmaceutical industry has played in promoting this model. One neurologist noted that there is no evidence that the educational outcome of children labeled with mental disorders and prescribed drugs is any better than those children similarly labeled who don't take medications. In fact, he said, children who are diagnosed as ADHD and prescribed stimulants like Ritalin often do worse in school than those similarly diagnosed but not on drugs.

Yet in session after session, therapists talked about how hard it was to resist the presumption that the only way to deal with unruly children was to put them on meds. As Dr. Jock McLaren, a psychiatrist at Australia, said, "It takes an extremely brave parent to stand up to the assembled multitude of nurses and school officials insisting on drugs and operating under a spurious biomedical model."

Yet many of the therapists at the conference seemed determined to help parents do just that. And toward that end, speaker after speaker presented research showing the effectiveness of alternative methods of treatment for troubled children, ranging from family therapy to positive behavior modification to interventions in residential care.

Listening in on some of these presentations, it struck me anew how lucky I was, as a young mother, to have found a pediatrician who viewed the biological model (then just gaining steam) with skepticism and understood the importance of spending time talking to parents. Rather than whipping out his pen and writing my son a prescription, he took the time to chat with me and suggest safer, more effective ways of dealing with my son's behavior. This pediatrician, Dr. Howard King, has since emerged as a champion of working with families, and he spearheads a pilot project called the Children's Emotional Health Link.

I will always be grateful for this one doctor's wisdom, and this weekend in Syracuse I was gratified to see that many other health-care professionals and parents have joined the fight and are pushing back against the wholesale drugging of our nation's youth. To paraphrase Hillel: If not them, then who?


mary weiss said...

Dear Alison,
Thank you for your positive article about psychiatrists and therapists beginning to understand the dangers of these drugs for children - and for that matter - for all of us.
I wrote an article for the St. Paul Press a dozen years and touched on the fact that at that time the use of Ritalin in the U.S. was seven(7) times larger than the next most frequent country. This, of course, has to stop.
And with your continually bringing it to our attention, hopefully it will.


Mary Weiss, M.O.D.

Unknown said...

Stress is a common problem among teens, and as a parent, you have a role in helping the teen in your life cope with it. So parents is you want your child to be a happy kid give him time and attention coz if u don’t gave them their proper attention they will try different ways to take out the stress n depression, like teasing the younger ones or fighting with other kids. And drugs of any type should b avoided as much as it can. Well if you people ask me about my opinion to deal with it is playing some physical sport. Am glad to hear that you are among those mothers who is fighting for the use of drugs thank for posting it.