There are a few things that I wish I could avoid, and one of those is child mental health diagnoses in the news. I don’t stay away from those news stories because I want to be a responsible, informed parent of a child with mental health issues, but dear God, some of the stuff that passes for “news” in the press is absolutely outrageous.
Here’s the thing: children MAY be over-diagnosed and over-medicated. It’s certainly a possibility, though I have no strong opinion on the matter and I don’t really understand why so many people with minimal understanding or experience in the matter have such strong opinions. Until you have a) lived with or been very close to a child with mental health issues and b) spent a great deal of time in the literature (peer-reviewed literature, not the popular press), your opinion is uninformed. End of story. The fact that you knew a family who medicated a child for the parents’ convenience (or believed you knew such a family) is meaningless. The fact that you watched a TV show or read a book about over-diagnosis, over-medication, or the myth of [insert diagnosis-du-jour] does not make you an expert.
I need to make this declaration to anyone and everyone who will listen: children can and do have mental health issues, and the decision to medicate (or not) is a difficult one. There might be parents and doctors out there in the world who are willing to medicate children for problems that are too minor for such an approach. I don’t know any parents and doctors like that, and in fact everyone we’ve dealt with in our journey with Carter (health care providers and other parents) has been very cautious and careful, but I won’t deny that it could happen.
My trouble begins with people who don’t know my family or my child and assume that Brian and I medicate for convenience, or that our child has the problems he does because we are bad parents with bad discipline habits. We may be bad parents, and we aren’t always the most effective disciplinarians, but we medicate for just one reason: Carter suffers if we don’t. That’s always been our guiding principle. Yes, life for us is easier when Carter is medicated, but we have never made decisions about treatment based on what works better for us. We are the adults. We expect to live with lots of inconvenience.* But letting our child suffer with symptoms that we can alleviate with medicine is not something that we’re willing to do. We constantly walk an excruciatingly fine line between maximizing benefits while minimizing risks. It’s a shitty enough job without constantly hearing someone new (in our lives, on TV, on the internet, wherever) pontificate about how child mental health issues either don’t exist, or are always attributable to bad parenting.
Because, as they say, the things you believe? Ain’t necessarily so.
*Trust me: life with a special needs child is very often inconvenient. Remember (or imagine) how difficult it is to parent an infant. Now imagine that that level of care is required year after year after year; that you continue to have interrupted sleep, must continue to provide that level of supervision, and more. That’s all before you add in visits to doctors and therapists and the huge numbers of meetings required by an extensive IEP, 504, or FSP.