Do you know what’s making me very happy right now? Newspapers and television and magazines have backed off on the headlines that say,
American Children are Overmedicated by Selfish Parents for Their Own Convenience and American Childhood Is on a Highway to Hell and We Are All Doomed Because Parents Are Lazy and Have No Values and the Pharmaceutical Industry Has Duped Them and We’re All Going to DIE!!!
Or something like that.
Much of the blogosphere is still abuzz on the topic, but the mainstream media, at least, has backed away from the issue.
That? That’s a good thing, because no one likes to turn on the TV to be vilified by people who know little and care even less.
Know what the problem is? People think they know lots and lots of shit. Shit they don’t know.
Back up, before I go in a circle.
In the years between my divorce and my remarriage, I attended a large Presbyterian church. The only reason that church worked for me was because I was part of a weekly Bible study populated by open-minded people who knew how to disagree respectfully. The church itself? Quite conservative in some ways (ultimately the reason we left, but that’s a story for another time), but I had my niche and I was happy there.
I tried a new Sunday school class one week and the discussion turned to divorce. The class moderator closed the hour with a little impromptu speech wherein he said, “Every marriage has hard times! My marriage has had hard times, and I’ve even considered getting out, but that’s like giving up. If my wife and I can stay married after all we’ve been through, I don’t think there’s any excuse for a divorce.”
I have no idea what that man’s issues were; no idea what his marriage was like or why he had considered divorce. What I do know is that he suffered from a very serious disease which I have coined (Now! Here! Today! Aren’t you glad you’re witnessing this momentous event?) Severe Lack of Imagination, or SLI.
Some people cannot imagine that anyone, anywhere, at any time, has experienced something different (or experienced the same thing differently) than they have. If, for our SLI sufferer, he has experienced what seems to him to be the worst possible problem that a marriage could have, and he didn’t get a divorce than why would anyone ever get a divorce? People who get divorces must be lazy people who have no values and don’t care about marriage or family at all. They probably litter and kick puppies, too.
And of course I did make a mistake, but I made it on my wedding day. The day Robert said he was leaving and I didn’t try to stop him? No mistakes anywhere in that day. None.
Back to the people who are trying to raise the alarm about kids on psychotropic medicines and the lazystupidselfish parents who are creating a crisis of apocalyptic proportions, first? Get a fucking grip.
My God, when I was watching and reading some of the coverage about kids and meds, you’d think there were large groups of parents feeding their kids a steady diet of Drano and gravel.
And why am I writing about this now, when I just said the media had backed off on the issue? Because these attitudes are ingrained in our culture and continue to drive stigma. Many (most?) people continue to believe this stuff. I’ve seen a look of shock cross people’s faces when I tell them that my child takes psychotropic medications. People who know me, who know that I am anything but stupid, that my laziness does have its limits, have to adjust their paradigm to account for all of it.
Cognitive dissonance! Oh, shit, I like her, but she’s one of those people. No, wait, she can’t be. She’s an exception. Yes, that’s it! She is one of the very few, the extremely rare, the thoughtful parent who has a child who is actually ill. Phew. Paradigm restored.
You think I’m exaggerating? No. People have actually said some variation of this to me, “Yes, but you’re the exception. Most people give their kids ritalin just to shut them up.”
The arguments, as I understand them, with answers (duh!):
- Parents are medicating perfectly normal children for their own convenience! Kids have energy; that’s not ADHD! We’re raising a nation of zombies.
- Parents want their kids to be perfect. Not every child can be a superstar! Parents are trying to force their kids to be something they’re not with medications.
- The pharmaceutical companies have fooled parents into thinking their children have illnesses that don’t even exist. Show me blood tests, brain scans, anything that proves there’s a real problem. They don’t exist. Know why? It isn’t real. Real diseases have lab tests.
- There are other solutions. Even if a child has a real mental health issue, that child should get therapy, not medicine! Parents think medicine is a magic bullet that’s going to solve everything!
- Psychotropic meds are unproven and dangerous! No child should be on these medicines! (This argument is particularly vehement when the discussion centers on antipsychotic medications.)
- Parents who medicate their children are robbing them of a normal childhood!
Yes, kids have energy. Some kids have lots of energy. And a few kids are miserable because of their inability to do stuff. You have to slow down to do stuff. Kids with severe ADHD don’t really do anything. The perception seems to be that, if we would just let kids with ADHD be who they are, they would be just fine.
This is a symptom of SLI. You have seen a very energetic child. That child was very energetic but fine. Therefore, all children who are very energetic are fine.
No. Just, no. For one thing, hyperactivity is only one of the symptoms of ADHD, and isn’t even present in every case of the disorder. For another thing, kids with ADHD suffer. Carter (who has, among many other things, a whopper of a case of ADHD) has never learned how to properly play. He doesn’t have the focus necessary to do anything, even his favorite things, for longer than a few minutes. Left untreated, he is not a happy kid with an abundance of energy. He is a miserable dervish.
And for people who think that ADHD is no big deal, sometime I will tell you about how it killed a 13 year old boy who I loved.
You just need to come on over to my house because your SLI is tripping you up again. We’re pretty much the opposite of overachievers. We have four children; one of them is mentally ill. I want to keep the one with a mental illness alive. Ivy League superstardom is not a factor anywhere in that equation. If this phenomenon exists, I’ve never seen it. Not in the clinic waiting rooms where worried parents wait with their lists of questions clutched in their hands; not at my support group where we try hard to support each other through life-and-death crises; not online where I receive a heartbreaking stream of messages about unwell children from their broken hearted parents.
There is an underlying concern here that I agree with: the pharmaceutical companies are more concerned with profits than with anything else. And yes, they are. They are not humanitarian organizations, and the FDA is not doing a good enough job of monitoring their research or their marketing. All true. While I want more and better research, more and better protections, and a great deal more transparency in the whole process, it is also true that big, bad pharma continues to produce drugs that save lives.
No doctor ever tried to force us to medicate our child. Ever. I have not heard of that happening to any of the hundreds (probably thousands, by now) of people I have spoken to who are raising a child with mental health issues. Does it happen? Perhaps, but I am in no way convinced that this is a widespread problem. People who successfully complete medical school have more lucrative options than psychiatry; the psychiatrists I know didn’t choose their specialty because they want to mess with people’s minds and shove medicines at them for shits and giggles.
But since I don’t have SLI myself, I can, in fact, imagine that a person might do such a thing and so I use my (not even a little bit fooled) brain to consider the options. I know how to do research on the doctors, the drugs, and the illness. I go to the university library and read the peer-reviewed research. I never drink the Kool-Aid, so easy with that wide brush, Cowboy.
And finally, the lab test issue. I’m stumped by this one. I guess I should be angry that someone invented microscopes because before we could see cancer cells, there was no cancer. Or something like that.
There’s no lab test for SIDS, either, but I’m pretty sure that horror exists, and so does mental illness. We are not gods. Our confirmation of a thing’s existence is not necessary for a thing to be.
I would like to meet these parents, who believe that medicine is the only thing that’s necessary for the treatment of a serious mental health issue. I am not that parent. I don’t know any parents who believe that medicine is anything other than one piece among many in an effective treatment plan. We have made use of a variety of services – traditional talk therapy, play therapy, a specialized school environment, in-home behavioral management services, occupational therapy, to name just a few.
Just as medication is not the be-all-and-end-all for treatment, neither is any therapy. Behavioral interventions have limits, and can take a very long time. Time that my child doesn’t have.
There are some states of mind that are so far removed from reality, so dangerous, or so painful that it is cruel to deny the relief that medications brings. The bottom line for us is this: our child suffers if we do not use medicine to treat his illness.
This one? I totally agree with this one. Likewise, no child should ever be on chemotherapy. No child should have to be injected with insulin. No child should undergo surgery.
If you come from an assumption that the illness is not real, then of course the risks of medicine make no sense at all. In fact, taking those risks seems downright criminal.
If, on the other hand, you understand that a child in the grip of a mental illness may be as likely to die or experience permanently disabling consequences as a child with cancer, diabetes, or any of a thousand other illnesses, than you know that we are not taking risks as much as we are balancing risks.
No, the illness did that. The illness is the villain here. All I want for my child is a happy life. I want him to ride his bike and learn to read and annoy me with fart jokes at the dinner table. I want the most serious medical episode of his childhood to be a broken arm or appendicitis.
Yes, my child has been robbed.
I don’t doubt that part for one minute.