by A.F. Hutchinson
, Copywriter | February 03, 2010
D is for debate
Prior to becoming a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, Elizabeth J. Roberts, M.D. taught elementary school kids in the Chicago public school system. The experience informed her ensuing psychiatry practice; today she is a vociferous critic of the use of behavioral medications in children. While she is careful to make the distinction between behavioral problems and biologically-based psychiatric illnesses, she sees a disturbing trend of convenience on the part of prescribing physicians and amenable parents. "It's easier, sadly, to tell a parent your child has a chemical imbalance rather than to have to confront the parent with the idea that perhaps their parenting hasn't been up to par. No parent wants to hear that; no clinician wants to confront a parent. It's just easier to go along with the party line." From Roberts' perspective, the wide availability of self-diagnostic information on the Internet is a double-edged sword. "Parents will come in and say, "my child is bipolar, I'm sure. Six people in my family have been diagnosed with it." So that means every drunk in your family that blows up at Thanksgiving has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder." She predicts that parents' current fascination with bipolar disorders will be short-lived.
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"It's not like the ADHD craze. ADHD got popular and will continue to be popular because the treatment for ADHD is a prescription of speed. Everybody loves speed," she says. "If you have any question about that, drive by any Starbucks on any morning and see the line out the door... people love their speed. It keeps you trim, you don't gain a lot of weight, don't become a fat American and all that fear that we have in our society." Conversely, atypical antipsychotics used to treat bipolar disorder have been shown to cause a variety of side effects, including rapid weight gain.
Roberts paints a dispiriting picture of the overmedication issue. "You have a profession driven by [researchers] who've taken millions of dollars from Risperdal and Seroquel, promoting this idea that every child has a tantrum is bipolar. Parents that are on the Internet researching, parents that don't want to have you tell them that you're parenting is terrible and the reason your kid is a brat is because you cannot parent well, they want to hear that he is chemically imbalanced, and an insurance system that drives docs to see a kid in five minutes and doesn't want to have a fight with parent [encourages overmedication]. 'You think he has bipolar disorder? Here's your script. Next!' And now you have a whole country full of medicated children."