The mental health industry

Posted: Jul 16, 2002 12:00 AM
In 1987, a smoke filled room of pharmaceutical executives invented the diagnosis, "attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)." In a nutshell: ADHD is described as a neurological disorder that prevents children from focusing on a specific task. It is worth noting that there exists no scientific method for diagnosing this ailment. Simply, if a child is observed to be acting bored, distracted and/or boisterous in the classroom, he is often believed to be suffering from ADHD; as opposed to suffering from, say, childhood. Presently, every public school child is required to undergo testing for attention deficit disorder. The most recent analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.6 million elementary school children were diagnosed with ADHD between 1997 and 98. By drugging these children into complacency, the pharmaceutical companies give order to the chaos of childhood and make lots of money. Just one thing: A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that the chief medication prescribed for treating ADHD, Ritalin, has addictive qualities and cardiac side effects similar to those of cocaine. Nonetheless, "production of Ritalin has increased more than sevenfold in the past eight years, and 90 percent of it is consumed in the U.S.," reports Time magazine. Lawrence Smith and his wife are deeply sensible about the dangers associated with this powerful amphetamine. They lost their 14-year-old boy, Mathew, after Ritalin treatment exacerbated an existing heart condition, resulting in the child's death. Smith says he was pressured into putting Mathew on Ritalin by the school's social worker. "She said that if we wouldn't consider getting Mathew on Ritalin for their diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, that social services could charge us for neglecting his educational and emotional needs. My wife and I were scared of the possibility of losing our children, if we did not comply." Smith feels that if they were informed about the risks involved with Ritalin or about available alternatives, their child might be alive today. So who is making all of these ADHD diagnoses? Often times it is school counselors who are not equipped to make mental health assessments. Dr. Mary Ann Block, an advocate for the treatment of ADHD without drugs, warns that most of the schoolchildren labeled ADHD "have never had a thorough medical exam to rule out any health problems causing the symptoms, or as a precaution before prescribing typical ADHD drugs that carry so many risks." In lieu of overmedicating our children, might I suggest that we consider a return to parenting? A not-so-subtle example: My father was confronted with several boisterous children who tended toward excitability. That is to say, like most children, our young consciousness raced lightening quick in about 43 directions at all times. My father's solution was a few stern words and the loud snap of a belt. Believe me, we began paying attention. Of course, nowadays parents are made to feel guilty for disciplining their children. There can even be hell to pay in lawsuits. So we opt instead to murder our children's consciousness with medication. Medicate the child whose eyes glaze during science class. Medicate the child who displays a little too much childlike exuberance. Medicate him. Medicate her. Medicate everyone. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 1 million children take psychotropic drugs to help control their behavior. Some of those children will suffer serious side effects as a result of a faulty diagnosis of ADHD. Others, like Mathew, will die. Against this backdrop, it is imperative that we pass legislation prohibiting teachers and other unqualified school personnel from making mental health diagnoses. Lawmakers also need to ensure that children receive thorough medical examinations to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms associated with ADHD. Equally important is that parents receive full disclosure of the dangerous side effects of the psychotropic drugs being prescribed to their children. Very simply, our schools should not be co-opted by drug companies. Nor should the minds of our youth be so carelessly tossed on the psychiatric assembly line.