Monday, November 3, 2008

The overmedicated child

I saw this article at the Chicago Tribune online about the dramatic increase in the number of children who are now on prescriptions for everything from diabetes to ADHD to asthma. Now all of the conditions are serious and I am sure they are increasing in children at an alarming rate, but it seems to me to be a bit of a chicken or egg situation. Are children on more meds because the actual numbers of these diseases are increasing or are the number of these diagnosis increasing because we have the technology? I would say that there are environmental factors that are contributing to the increases in asthma and diabetes. Children are getting less exercise and eating more unhealthy foods along with more pollution in our water and air and so the increases in these diseases seem to make sense to me. But the increase in the diagnosis of ADHD is something that I worry about. I work with kids all day long as most of you know and so I see active kids, I see kids who can't sit still for more than 5 minutes, I see kids who always seem to be distracted by something and don't focus well. I know they exist, but is this really an increase in ADHD or are we as a society just becoming lazier about things? Is it easier to give a kid a pill than to address their need for movement? As an educational system, is it easier to tell parents you need to get your kids on medicine or they won't pass school than to give them more time outside or more time for them to not sit at their desk? These same kids would not have been medicated in the past, even 20 years ago when I was in school, they would have been acknowledged as active kids and the adults would have been told they had to find ways to help these kids to focus or find ways for them to be less active. I think we over medicate children now. I think that it is easier for the parents and for the schools to just give little Johnny a pill than to address his need to move around during the day. Now part of the fault for these children is the increasing pressure for children to not be active, the expectation that all children are able to sit for 8 hours a day at a desk writing, reading or listening to a teacher lecture AT them. As someone who knows something about early childhood education, and I would say this part applies to all people, no child is able to just sit at a desk for long periods of time. They all need some time to get up, to burn off some energy and to get refocused. Most adults do not sit at their desk for the whole time at work, they get up to go to the bathroom, to have a coffee break, to talk to another coworker so why do we expect children to do what we as adults cannot do. So, to tie this back to what I was saying earlier we have to medicate kids more because we have unreasonable expectations on them as to their activity level. We are also lazier as to finding solutions. We give them a pill and the problem is supposed to be fixed whereas, I think, we have just created newer and more dangerous issues and that is that now these children do not know how to function without being on medicine. They cannot focus or operate in the world without medicine. We may not see this issue now, but in five to ten years when these children are out in the working world after high school or college we will realize that this over medicating of children has become a huge detriment to our workforce and society at large.

And then I saw this article, which discusses the fact that now there are more than 6 million children some as young as 2 who are taking medicine for series psychiatric conditions. These children are being diagnosed with things like bipolarism, depression and anxiety disorders. This, honestly, scares the living fuck out of me. Either we are seeing what have long been thought of as disease that do not strike children till at least puberty being diagnosed while they are still in diapers or we are over-diagnosing children. If we are over diagnosing children than we are setting up these children for a lifetime of struggles as they recover from being on medicines that they do not need and are possibly harmful to them physically and mentally. If all of these diagnosis are totally accurate and we are seeing this jump because of technology, than where were they children before technology allowed us to diagnose them? And finally, if they are all accurate and we are truly seeing this much of a spike in the psychiatric distress of very young children than what the fuck is going on? Why are we seeing such a spike in the number of children with bipolarism, anxiety disorders and depression at such a young age? Is it environmental or biological or...? I don't know, I do know that autism is also increasing in occurrence as well and that is yet another neurological disorder, or so we think right now. What is happening to us as a society that children are so fucked up (sorry for the phrasing, but it seemed appropriate) that we need to give them serious psychiatric drugs before they walk, talk or even enter school? I am baffled and as a teacher and member of society I am very very scared for the next generation.

Finally, I am not saying that some children do not need medicines for ADHD or for series psychological disorders, I am just wondering whether it is every child that we are diagnosing needs these strong medicines and if there are not other solutions.


Mathman6293 said...

I know that some kids certainly have issues that need to be medicated. My opinion is that our kids and adults have a TV mentality and can not pay attention past the first commercial break. The lack of attention in general keeps learning to a minimum.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Is it easier to give a kid a pill than to address their need for movement?

Yes, it is, and all the "no child left behind" bullshit causes eben less opportunity for movement.

In Texas, our school systems have become a slave to the dreaded TAKS test.

From the first day of school, children are drilled on TAKS, TAKS, TAKS.

They don't even get P.E. everyday. FSM forbid we have regular recess time.