The book “Dosed” by Kaitlin Bell Barnett convinces me more than ever that medical care for mental illness is more like voodoo than science.
With the subtitle, “The Medication Generation Grows Up,” Barnett attempts to address the effect of prescription psychotropic medication on young people by talking to the young people themselves. The result is enlightening and scary.
Psychotropic medications are any drug capable of affecting the mind, emotions and behavior including Ritalin for ADHD, Prozac (and a hundred other popular variations) for depression and lithium for bipolar disorder.
One in five Americans takes such drugs nowadays, but scientific data on the effect on children and teenagers is harder to get since many doctors prescribe such medications to children “off-label”; rarely are children the ones testing such drugs in trials.
So we simply experiment with giving these drugs to our children. Particularly with psychiatric issues in children, it is difficult to distinguish real illness from normal development.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never taken psychotropic drugs, prescription or otherwise, but without revealing the health histories of my loved ones, I suggested and even begged people to take them, I’ve marveled at the rash of problems these drugs have caused while supposedly healing other issues, I’ve helped at least one person get off them and I’ve fretted about the efficacy of another person’s medication regime.
Barnett’s book is eye-opening.
The author addresses what makes a difficult kid, the role of medicated kids, school interventions, how typical teenage rebellion (including drug and alcohol abuse) affects medicated children, the complicating factors of long-term medication (especially on young women when they finally decide they want to be pregnant), how young adult reassess their psychiatric experiences and more.
Particularly disturbing are the side effects and long-term effects of psychotropic medications on children. For a small example, Barnett shows evidence that kids with ADHD are prone to developing depression and anxiety, and people with mood and anxiety disorders are two to three times more likely to migraine headaches. How often is the cure worse than the disease?
Interestingly, Barnett explores all the different factors that play a role in diagnosis and ongoing medication decisions: parental involvement, physical and hormonal changes of adolescence, familial experience, health insurance requirements and societal trends. In the end, the questions of medicating children for mental disorders remains open.
“The psychological impact of the experience [of being medicated] varies vastly from person to person, depending on his or her upbringing, personality, present circumstances, and inherited predisposition to illness … When these phenomena converge with all the rapid changes inherent in growing up, the process of understanding one’s disorder, one’s medication and oneself — both separately and also in concert — becomes far more difficult.”
It’s not a beach read by any stretch of the imagination, but if you or someone you love has taken or is taking psychotropic medications, especially before the age of 20, this book should be on your must-read list, if not to find answers, to at least get you asking the right questions.