Why Do We Always Medicate the Child?

I found the video “The Medicated Child” particularly unsettling. What I found the most upsetting was the fact that treatment options outside medication were never mentioned. Different forms of therapy, teaching impulse control techniques, or changes in diet are all possible alternatives to medication yet these options were never discussed in the film. All three of the patients followed in the film visited with their psychiatrist on what seemed like a regular basis. However, the meetings seemed more focused on re-evaluating the dosages of the various prescriptions the kids were on than actually providing therapy or assessing other factors that could potentially be contributing to their symptoms. I found it interesting that the children did not seem to have the best eating habits either. It’s clear that what we eat has a profound influence on our internal health, which includes our brain. A steady diet of corn dogs and cookies can’t be the best foundation for physical and mental health. Inadequate nutrition from an early age could be one of the main factors behind the behavioral inconsistencies in these children. Fortunately, later in the film we see Jacob, a young man who was put on a series of medications early in life that led to unexpected side effects, practicing yoga and attempting to decrease his dependence on medications.

Another possible solution is that these kids are just being kids! Guaranteed, the video did not give us much of an idea of the nature of the abnormal behavior before medications but I feel like many kids go through phases where their moods swing up and down and their behavior seems erratic. I worry that if these phases, if they span a longer period of time, could be misinterpreted as the symptoms of ADHD or childhood bipolar disorder. Then children who do not really have a mental disorder would be put on unnecessary medications that, as we saw in Jacob’s case, can have severe, irreversible side effects. Later in the video, the parents of DJ pay a panicked visit to his psychiatrist after watching a 60 minutes news report on the death of a 4-year-old girl from an overdose of bipolar medications. DJ’s mother asks his psychiatrist about other possible forms of treatment such as therapy. DJ’s psychiatrist quickly dismissed the notion saying that at this point therapy would not help DJ due to his lack of impulse control. This comment made little sense to me. I feel like the point of therapy would be to teach DJ impulse control techniques so he could regulate his own emotions and behaviors. That’s like saying therapy won’t help an individual with depression because they’re too sad.

Overall, this film made me worried about the direction the field of psychiatric treatment is going in. However, I think this is an issue that the general public should be aware of. The main message being that if you ever find yourself in the position where you have to make treatment decisions for children, or adults for that matter, make sure you get all the facts and learn about all the possible options.

Here’s a link to the video on the PBS website for those of you who are interested:

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4 thoughts on “Why Do We Always Medicate the Child?

  1. Hi Mariah, I totally agree. This video was very unsettling brought to light a scary reality. I was also planning on writing a post about this so I will try to not step on your toes too much!

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  2. I am really glad we watched that film in class! It is crazy how much we rely on drugs to treat illnesses and downplay other means such as therapy. It is difficult for me to imagine us stepping away from using drugs for treatment since it is so deeply embedded in our society and find myself hoping that a “magic bullet” be developed soon.

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  3. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I will definitely watch it.
    It totally agree with what you are saying. It is very concerning that the immediate answer to disorders like ADHD in children is controlled substances. Although needed in many cases, drugs should never be the immediate answer to disorders like this, other options should be tried first. My brother has been on an ADD med, vivance, for about 2 years now (he is 15), although I am happy that the drugs are working for him and he is doing much better in school and feels much better, I am concerned for his longterm future, especially if he has to use these drugs for the rest of his life.

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