In this manifesto for change, New York Times blogger Warner (Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, 2005, etc.) examines the argument that Americans are overmedicating their children.
The author wanted to write a condemnation of American parents for hysterically spotting mental disorders where there are none. When she began interviewing parents and mental-health professionals, however, she reversed her position. Only five percent of American children take psychotropic drugs, she writes, yet that many suffer from extreme mental illness, while another 15 percent endure at least minimal illness. Not only has Warner never met a parent who lunged for the medicine cabinet to dope up their kids, but some fought the medication route as long as they could, to the detriment of their child. It’s true that antidepressant prescriptions for children have skyrocketed, but that’s because primitive understanding of the brain left many sick children undiagnosed in the past; we now have more effective drugs for some illnesses; and the stigma of mental illness is blessedly diminished. Warner cites research that girls, minority children and those with less-educated parents are undertreated for ADHD. Careful reporter that she is, the author acknowledges that some experts might dispute parts of her thesis. Other signs of childhood trauma—teen pregnancy, school violence, crime, substance abuse and suicide—have declined, and Warner reports special professional skepticism about exploding rates of bipolar diagnoses in children. Meanwhile, too many laypeople are spooked by drug companies’ ads plugging their latest products, which doctors might not recommend. Curtailing those ads and more insurance coverage for pediatric mental-health screenings are among the author’s welcome common-sense proposals.
Parents of mentally ill children will find this tonic reassuring, while all parents will find it a valuable reminder that it’s not poor parenting to seek medical help for your children.