Aldous Huxley’s classic 1932 novel, “Brave New World,” depicted a world where the population was drugged – by the government – drugged to keep it happy and docile. Children were subjected to Pavlovian conditioning from birth to ensure that they conformed to societal norms dictated by 10 “Controllers.”
Huxley’s novel was a work of fiction, but if some people in Washington have their way, life will soon follow art.
The President’s “New Freedom Commission on Mental Health” has issued its final report, and it’s a bombshell! If the nation’s mental health mavens have their way, every living American from infants in the crib to the elderly will be screened for mental disease, and if they have their way, have a treatment regimen prescribed. As disturbing as the general concept is, its emphasis on children is frightening.
There is already an epidemic of over-diagnosing mental problems such as ADHD among children. Most often, these diagnoses are made by untrained teachers using a checklist that includes such signs of deep mental disturbance as failing to sit still, not completing work on time and forgetting their homework – these mind you for five year-olds!
One consequence of the rush to label our children as mentally disturbed is that the number on psychotropic drugs tripled between 1987 and 1996 with at least 6.2% of all children and adolescents taking at least one psychiatric drug. Since the period covered by the study, the numbers have gotten even larger. In some high schools as much as 20% of the student population is taking a psychiatric drug!
But if the mental health mavens have their way it’s going to get worse – much worse.
Their intentions were made clear by one brief paragraph in the Commission’s final report.
Schools are in a key position to identify mental health problems early and to provide a link to appropriate services. Every day more than 52 million students attend over 114,000 schools in the U.S. When combined with the six million adults working at those schools, almost one-fifth of the population passes through the Nation’s schools on any given weekday. Clearly, strong school mental health programs can attend to the health and behavioral concerns of students, reduce unnecessary pain and suffering, and help ensure academic achievement.
In plan English, what they are recommending is that every child in the nation’s schools be screened by their teachers for mental health problems. Never mind that the teachers have no medical credentials. Never mind that they may have ulterior motives, such as wanting to keep children docile so that they don’t have to work to hard. Never mind that their unqualified diagnoses could follow a child for the rest of their lives. To the mental health mavens, their advocacy of intervention is more than justified:
Without intervention, child and adolescent disorders frequently continue into adulthood. … If the system does not appropriately screen and treat them early, these childhood disorders may persist and lead to a downward spiral of school failure, poor employment opportunities and poverty in adulthood. No other illnesses damage so many children so seriously.
In fact, the mental health mavens think that it’s so important that they don’t even want to wait until a child enters school. They advocate a program (which has been adopted in Illinois) that has nurses make home visits to pregnant women and then monitors the child’s mental health during its first year of life – no I’m not kidding, the first year of life.
As outrageous as this may sound, it actually is merely an indication of the growing trend toward diagnosing children as having mental health problems at ever-younger ages.
One of the latest examples of this is the latest fad in psychiatry – diagnosing preschoolers as bipolar.
A fundamental problem with such diagnoses is that there is no accepted test for bipolar disorder – in children or adults. Instead, as with ADHD, psychiatrists use a “checklist” of more than three dozen behaviors to diagnose juvenile bipolar disorder
And what are these behaviors?
Well, they include such things as silliness, night terrors, carbohydrate cravings, fidgetiness, bed-wetting, lying, social anxiety and difficulty getting up in the morning.
So if your five-year old sticks a French fry up his nose, call a shrink! If the child asks for a second cookie get a straight-jacket! And, heaven forbid, the child says they really didn’t break Grandma’s vase, get out the commitment papers!
If all this seems extreme to you, you’re in good company. In Houston, Texas, Dr. Laurel L. Williams estimates that she has “un-diagnosed” between 50 and 75 cases of bipolar disorder in young children.
But the problem is far more than just mistaken diagnoses – it’s what happens when children are misdiagnosed. Whether the diagnosis is ADHD, bipolar disorder, or some other psychiatric ill, the automatic response from most practitioners is to medicate. And remember, these are not benign drugs being prescribed to our children – they can cause serious side effects ranging from diabetes to sterility. Yet, the mental health mavens think nothing of having our kids pop a pill at the drop of a hat.
Worse, in most instances, the drugs they’re dispensing so casually haven’t been tested on children, and often are being given “off-label.” This refers to prescribing a medication for some purposes other than the one it was approved for. Moreover, in many if not most cases, it is not just one drug that the children are getting, it is several. In fact, the average number of drugs given to these children is THREE!
A survey by Express Scripts Inc., a private pharmacy benefit manager, titled “Trends in the Use of Antidepressants in a National Sample of Commercially Insured Pediatric Patients, 1998-2002,” revealed just how strong, and frightening the trend towards medicating younger and younger children is:
… the overall prevalence of antidepressant use among children increased from 160 per 10,000 (1.6 percent) in 1998 to 240 per 10,000 (2.4 percent) in 2003, for an adjusted annual increase of 9.2 percent. The growth in the overall prevalence of antidepressants was greater among girls (a 68 percent increase) than boys (a 34 percent increase). In 2002 antidepressant use was highest among girls aged 15 to 18 years at 640 per 10,000 (6.4 percent). The trend of increasing overall use of antidepressants among children and adolescents appears to have been driven primarily by greater use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Perhaps the single most disturbing data included in the Express Scripts survey was the finding that the largest proportional increase in antidepressant use was among children in the age group of 5 years old and younger!
What makes the trend particularly disturbing is that it comes at a time when there is increasing evidence that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may cause some young people to commit suicide. In fact, on October 15, 2004 the FDA recommended that pharmaceutical companies put “black box” warnings on the package insert about the potential for these drugs to cause suicidal thoughts and suicide in adolescents.
Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist who authored the “Antidepressant Fact Book” is outraged:
To inflict these drugs on the growing brains of infants and children is wrong and abusive. We’re in an era of technological child abuse in which physicians routinely, whether they know it or not, are actually abusing infants and children with toxic substances, rather than addressing their real needs.
What makes what Breggin terms “technological child abuse” even more outrageous is that there is no evidence to suggest that the drugs work! According to Breggin:
These drugs have not even been proved useful in adults, where the studies are marginal at best, and we now have the FDA acknowledging that in both children and adults the drugs produce a wide variety of behavioral and mental abnormalities. Antidepressants drastically change the functioning of widespread neurotransmitters in the brain, and there is no way to interfere at a stage of rapid growth without disturbing the function of the brain.
But could the problem really be that widespread?
The short answer is yes – and it’s not limited to the United States!
Studies in Canada, England, France and Germany show that these countries, too, are medicating their children. For example, a survey of 609 primary schools in Strasbourg, France revealed that 12.1% were taking at least one psychotropic drug when they entered school, and of these, 36% had been started on the drug at the age of one or younger!
In this country, last year 20 MILLION PRESCRIPTIONS were written to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) alone!
And if the mental health mavens have their way, the number is going to get a lot bigger! For example, psychiatrists estimate that 1.1% of the population suffers from bipolar disorder. That translates into 572,000 children with the problem – 572,000 children they want to medicate with powerful drugs like lithium!
And, mind you, they would be medicated on the basis of a checklist – not empirical evidence from testing, BECAUSE THERE IS NO VALID TEST FOR BIPOLAR DISORDER!
But what it they’re wrong?
Lisa Van Syckel could tell you.
Her daughter Michelle had started life as a normal child. She had encountered some adjustment problems as her family moved frequently due to her father’s job, but they were always transitory.
Then, in 2000, her father was transferred to New Jersey.
Soon after the move, Michelle began to have problems. She complained about a number of physical symptoms including dizziness, chest pain and shortness of breath. Although previously a good student, her schoolwork began to decline and she began to lose weight. Her doctors decided she was anorexic and admitted her to an eating disorder unit at the Somerset Medical Center in Sommerville, New Jersey.
While a patient there, the doctors put her on the antidepressant Zoloft. Shortly after being put on the drug Michelle developed a slow heartbeat and erratic blood pressure readings.
So what did the doctor do?
He increased the dose.
After two weeks, Michelle was released, with a diagnosis of “personality disorder, unspecified.”
Three weeks after going home, Michelle was back in the hospital’s eating disorder unit again. The doctors decided they knew what the problem was: the wrong medication, so they switched her from Zoloft to Paxil.
Although Lisa didn’t realize it, this was the beginning of the nightmare she thought might never end.
Over the next several months, Michelle’s mental health continued to deteriorate. Then, one day, when Michelle was particularly agitated, her mother searched her room. She was shocked to discover that Lisa had hidden knives in her dresser. She was cutting and scratching herself.
Lisa hid all of the knives and other sharp implements and began sleeping outside her daughter’s room at night.
In despair, Lisa and her husband told her doctor about the problem. His answer: increase the dosage of her Paxil.
Meanwhile, Michelle’s self-mutilation got progressively worse.
On September 28, 2000 she slashed herself 25 times and carved the word DIE into her belly. She was admitted to the hospital.
Eight days later, on October 6, Michelle tried to commit suicide.
Lisa had gone out to run an errand when Michelle’s 12 year-old brother heard his sister scream. Running to see what had happened he discovered her trying to take a handful of pills. After wrestling the pills away, he called 911, but Michelle banged his head into a wall and ran out of the house.
When Lisa got home moments later, there were four police cars in the driveway and her husband was giving the police gathered there a description of his daughter.
Panicked, Lisa was terrified that if the police were able to locate Michelle it would be too late.
Then the phone rang. Michelle had called one of her friends from a nearby restaurant. They rushed there. Lisa was curled up next to a phone booth. But as her parents and the police approached, she jumped up running across some nearby railroad tracks.
When the police finally caught her, it took three of them to get her under control. When they were able to catch her, she was like a tiger, biting, spitting and even breaking out of her handcuffs twice. Shrieking obscenities and attempting to kick out the squad car’s windows, she was transported to the local hospital.
In the emergency room, her violent struggles continued as the doctors and nurses attempted to place her in restraints. Eventually they were able to do so and then sedated her and sent her home.
Two days later she was admitted to the adolescent psychiatric ward of University Behavioral HealthCare in Piscataway, New Jersey, an affiliate of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
One of the first things the doctors did was to abruptly take her off Paxil – even though the package label warns that this could be dangerous.
Still, the doctors could not agree on a single diagnosis. Over her ordeal, she had been diagnosed as suffering from anorexia, severe depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and borderline personality features. This last diagnosis was a serious mental illness that causes suicidal gestures and self-injury among other symptoms. Michelle had also been treated with a host of drugs including Celexa, a powerful SSRI, Risperdal, a drug normally given to schizophrenics, Depakote, a drug used to treat epilepsy that is sometimes given to people with bipolar disorder, and, of course, Zoloft and Paxil.
Despite their inability to come up with a consistent diagnosis, there was one thing the doctors did agree on: that Michelle’s parents were to blame!
They accused Lisa of being overbearing and suggested that her father was abusing her!
This, despite the fact that there wasn’t a hint of evidence to suggest such a serious charge was true!
Lisa and her husband were furious, but they were also desperate to find a way to help their daughter. Then, a casual conversation with an old friend gave them a ray of hope. Their friend was extremely ill due to a recurrence of Lyme disease. When he initially got infected, he suffered from the sorts of symptoms most people know about: rash, fever and aching muscles. But after being treated with antibiotics, he thought he was cured. But some time later it came back, this time causing severe fatigue, depression and a loss of appetite.
His description struck Michelle’s parents like a thunderbolt. She had contracted Lyme disease in 1993, treated with antibiotics and pronounced cured. Could her problems be caused by a recurrence of the disease? Lisa and her husband had mentioned Michelle’s bout of Lyme disease to all of her doctors, but none had given it much notice. When they raised the issue again following their friend’s revelations, the notion was dismissed out of hand. Their daughter was deeply disturbed the mental health mavens insisted.