Children and Medications for Mental Health Issues – A Last Resort

Children hiking through the woods
Medicating children for mental health conditions, ADD/ADHD, and other learning disabilities should be an absolute last resort. IMO parents should go to the ends of the earth before taking a chance on medication.

Of course, I’m not a parent so by some people’s reasoning I don’t have a vote in the ongoing debate about children and medication for mental health issues, ADD/ADHD, and other conditions.

Now are children being over-medicated? I haven’t studied the studies, but anecdotally I would bet children are because I believe adults are over medicated. It seems to me that if doctors of all stripes are too quick to prescribe meditations for adults then they are likely – albeit less – to do the same for children.

The reason I am so concerned about possible over-prescribing is that we don’t know enough about the medications and how they impact the brain of an adult. It’s not difficult to find articles discussing hypothesis for why a medication may work and even the documentation that come with many medications indicates that scientists aren’t quite sure why a medication does or doesn’t work on adults.

If we truly understood how they worked, then don’t you think we would have better medications so many years after the Prozac era? So why would we give unproven, less-than-understood medications to developing children unless it was as an absolutely last resort?

Assuming I’m correct, what do we do about it?  Let’s see, the government could spend millions of dollars on another public education campaign or maybe the medical profession should do its job and set strict criteria – albeit voluntary – for the prescription of certain medications.

Among my recommendations:

  • Pediatricians and general practitioners would be restricted in their prescribing habits – perhaps even barred from prescribing mental health medications for children.
  • Psychological examination and testing would be a mandatory pre-requisite for the receipt of such medications. Oh, and screening by school staff is not sufficient, neither is screening by a social worker. I would require it be conducted by a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  • Counseling, again by a psychiatrist or psychologist, would be required before a child could be prescribed. At a minimum I would suggest three 1-hour sessions and preferably six sessions.

There is an obvious downside to the above restrictions that I will readily admit: it will almost certainly prevent some children who truly need the medications from getting them due to a lack of parental resources such as time and money.  Furthermore, I have no doubt some specialists would become “pill mills” for getting prescriptions without going through the necessary steps.

So the recommendations aren’t a perfect solution. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the above recommendations should reduce the amount of over-prescribing (protecting many children) as well as combat any suggestion that we really know the long-term impact of such prescribing on a child’s health.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below – but be respectful as hot-button issues often bring out the worst in people.

Image Credit: vastateparksstaff via the Creative Commons, inclusion of their photo should not be considered an endorsement of this post or this site’s content.

Laughing at Ourselves and Our Conditions with the Peanuts Gang

Life with chronic anxiety is tough.  Always living on that edge can be exhausting so its great when we can reach out and enjoy a moment of disaction or joy.  That includes laughing at ourselves and our condition.

Linus complicating life for Lucy who just wants to color

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Is the Peanuts cartoon familiar? Much like attorneys, those of us with chronic anxiety often complicate life to a ridiculous degree and rob ourselves of simple pleasures in the process or make a bad situation worse. It’s a fact of life, but when given the chance it’s okay to enjoy a moment of mirth by laughing at our condition.

 

 

Hard Truths for Mental Health Crusaders

Hard Truths BannerGod love advocates for people with mental illness, but sometimes their attempts to reduce stigma ignore the hard realities of life. For example, a recent article used the revelations about Jesse Jackson Jr’s bipolar disorder to launch into a generic lecture on mental health stigma that had virtually nothing to do with Mr. Jackson’s specific experience.

So of course, I’ll use their article to launch into a rant about those who so blindly want to protect people with a mental illness that they instead give the impression we are fragile beings who need protecting from a cold, cruel society that doesn’t always understand our plight.  With that said, let’s take a look at two points – one good and one bad – made in the article which you can read here.

Mental Illness vs. Physical Illness

The well-meaning article states, “a classic example of mental health stigma—the idea that mental illnesses are somehow fundamentally different from physical ailments and that they permanently affect a person’s judgment and competence in a negative way …”

Today, it’s in vogue to blame chemical imbalances or perhaps structural anomalies in the brain as the cause of mental illness.  This is a way of trying to equate a mental illness with conditions such as cancer. I have no doubt it is true in some cases. However, the author is wrong in suggesting that mental illness is not fundamentally different. It absolutely is different regardless of the underlying cause.

Ask a person who has struggled for 20 or 30 years with severe depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia if they would gladly trade a limb – a hand, arm, foot – for a lifetime of good mental health. I would.

Mental illness is fundamentally different – perhaps not in having an underlying cause – but in how it impacts our lives. Suggesting otherwise ignores reality.

The Person is the Illness

The article states, “These myths of mental illness result in a wholesale blaming of the diagnosis for virtually everything the patient thinks and does. Relationship problems? It is the depression talking. Difficulty with medication? If it were not for the mental illness, he would willingly take it. The list can go on and on, and it sometimes causes people with mental health conditions to feel like they are defined by their diagnosis alone.”

The author is right about this perception. I’ve experienced this reaction even from persons who are wholeheartedly supportive.  For example, I remember a brief and relatively meaningless period several years ago when things just weren’t clicking in life.  It was just a rough couple weeks like anyone – healthy or not – might experience from time to time; however, I remembered being asked “how are you doing?” and from the tone it seemed clear the person wasn’t asking generically but had my history of depression and anxiety in mind as they assumed it was the cause.

Their intentions were good, but it made me feel that much worse. Today, I know that sometimes I just need a thicker skin.

My point is this – life with a mental illness or prolonged periods of mental illness are fundamentally different from a typical physical ailment. This is true whether it is how society reacts to us or otherwise in how it impacts our thinking, emotions and daily functioning.

So here is a provocative question for those with experience with serious illness: would you trade it for a serious physical condition such as the loss of a limb, cancer, partial paralysis or something else?