Crazy Making: Treating Children’s Mental Illness with Questionable Drugs

A very odd parlor game that some of my family members like to play (this is extended, not immediate family) is diagnosis the disorder. This alternately humorous and horrifying pastime consists of select family members (some with medical and psychological backgrounds and some just with their very assured opinions) talk about members of the family (in present company or not) and try to arrive at a consensus about what sort of psychological disorder they are suffering from. Luckily, the genetic pool that I was born from is not despoiled with any momentous or debilitating disorders. For our family the diagnosis consists of mainly things like OCD, minor bi-polar disorder, and plain old neurosis. For the most part, this is a collective and familial way to bring a sense of levity to the emotional (and psychological) challenges that confound us.

However, the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness is hardly something to be flippant about. Countless numbers of young people are diagnosed, as well as misdiagnosed with serious mental illness annually in the United States, and thousands of other children in need are never given the attention they so desperately need.

This past week, a panel of medical experts for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was asked to approve three powerful and tremendously expensive antipsychotic drugs for the use of children. The drugs in question, Seroquel, Zyprexa and Geodon, are already widely used by adults who suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and have also been frequently prescribed to children by doctors without FDA approval. In general, the use of these drugs have greatly helped children and adults, but there remain significant questions about side effects–including sedation, heavy weight gain, and other problems that could lead to heart disease and/or diabetes. Some concern arises around the idea that many of these children who are prescribed these drugs will no doubt be taking them (and dependent) for the rest of their life, and the long-term effects are yet unknown.

So this leaves parents (and children) is a predictably difficult crisis. Do you run the risk of the side effects, to provide an emotionally and mentally stable life for your child? Is this essentially trading up for a smaller set of problems and risks (sedation and weight gain) instead of a larger more immediate disorder (psychosis for example)? And what about the large incidence of misdiagnosis that needlessly puts thousands of children on antipsychotics and SSRIs?

No doubt this is a huge pragmatic, as well as ethical issue.

Opinions anyone? Feel free to share your experiences as a parent, child, medical professional or just someone contending with a disorder.

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appťtit among other publications.

by Eric Steinman

77 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sue L.
Sue L8 years ago

Another issue that I didn't see mentioned is sleep or the lack of sleep. Before electricity was invented, we went to sleep when it got dark and got up when the sun came up. Now we stay up late to watch the news (which in it's self is a problem) or late night TV. Kids are wired from video games or TV keeping them from getting quality sleep. I have a friend who went in to wake her teenage son. He had his phone in his hand as if he were texting. He was sound asleep. Sadly, so much has been created to interfer with growing up healthy and stable,

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JJ T.
JJ T.8 years ago

The American public doesn't get accurate or unbiased medical information anymore and are told to simply blindly trust their doctors. No one stops to see many of the people on these drugs are less yes less functional than before they starting taking the drugs. However, they usually are sedated and truly believe they are being helped. If that is help most people would say no thanks.

Now, since I am an elementary school teacher I have seen countless cases where children are being drugged. Sure it makes the teacher's job easier. However, in the long run it damages the child physically and emotionally as one can see as they struggle to function through the effects and never develop coping skills needed to live without being drugged.
This country needs to start asking why as are consistently rated as 32nd or 34th in the world health wise. Could it be we have too much access to a medical system gone mad?? A drug for treating everything even when science cannot prove it is a organic or physical condition. Remember there is no organic test to prove any of these so called mental illnesses. Despite what the pharmaceutical industry tries to tell you.

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JJ T.
JJ T.8 years ago

Needless to say I was never given a hearing. I realized then I was no longer an American citizen. I also realized that I didn't have the rights of even an accused murder or drunk driver. Individuals in the criminal system at least have to be charged with something significant before being detained and even then cannot be detained for days on end while being tortured and forcefully medicated unless due process has occurred.
Furthermore I was amazed how voraciously drugs were pushed by the mental system. Apparently without regard to evidence or even minimal knowledge of who they are even treating. The intensity of the sytem I learned leads to the point of coercion and intense intimidation in many cases even without provocation.
Luckily I wasn't provoked or intimidated by the unethical tactics of the physician but I was in complete disbelief how the mental system is essentially unmonitored by the court system.
I also realized why so many people commit suicide after being "treated". Their real emotions are simply suppressed, never resolved and then they suffer the further injustice of having their health adversely affected. It's the way they are treated by a system who historically is in denial. A system overly influenced by lucrative pharmaceutical funding and phoney studies where drugs are tested only by the companies who want to sell the drugs. Who ever thought that was a logical system was in denial about how business works? The American public doesn't get

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JJ T.
JJ T.8 years ago

I commented earlier on the absurdity of the U.S. and how no other medicates their children and adults like this country does. It has become shameful. However, to the certain reader who believe that this is a anyone who doesn't buy into the mental illness theory and the medicating of behaviors and personalities we don't like I would offer you the following of my experience. Four years ago a family member made an accusation that I was mentally ill with OCD and although their was no evidence I was a threat to myself or others and had a clear record I was involuntarily committed to a psych ward in a hospital. It was quite an education. First of all, I was given no hearing although I was told that eventually I would have one. I was never charged with anything but they were still able to hold me for almost two weeks. A psychiatrist would come to visit me every day for approximately two hours where she would threaten to send me to a mental hospital if I didn't take the drugs she was ordering. Her behavior was unbelievable. She was angry, frustrated and apparently felt she knew me although we had never met before this. Furthermore, she didn't really know the family member who had made the accusation! Although I remained calm and polite each day became a lesson in torture. Since I was rather confused as to how they were able to detain a U.S. citizen without due process I figured that I just needed to wait it out before I had an attorney and a hearing to get this to end.

SEND
JJ T.
JJ T.8 years ago

I commented earlier on the absurdity of the U.S. and how no other medicates their children and adults like this country does. It has become shameful. However, to the certain reader who believe that this is a anyone who doesn't buy into the mental illness theory and the medicating of behaviors and personalities we don't like I would offer you the following of my experience. Four years ago a family member made an accusation that I was mentally ill with OCD and although their was no evidence I was a threat to myself or others and had a clear record I was involuntarily committed to a psych ward in a hospital. It was quite an education. First of all, I was given no hearing although I was told that eventually I would have one. I was never charged with anything but they were still able to hold me for almost two weeks. A psychiatrist would come to visit me every day for approximately two hours where she would threaten to send me to a mental hospital if I didn't take the drugs she was ordering. Her behavior was unbelievable. She was angry, frustrated and apparently felt she knew me although we had never met before this. Furthermore, she didn't really know the family member who had made the accusation! Although I remained calm and polite each day became a lesson in torture. Since I was rather confused as to how they were able to detain a U.S. citizen without due process I figured that I just needed to wait it out before I had an attorney and a hearing to get this to end.

SEND