Dave's Progress. Chapter 69: American Madness.

Having just watched Louis Theroux's BBC2 documentary, "America's Medicated Kids", and this, after all, is a blog largely about mental health, I just thought I'd give you some of my own thoughts on the programme.
The documentary focused on the issue that, currently in America, more and more children are being diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and moreover, being medicated for them, often with drugs that have never been tested on children and are only recommended for adults over the age of 18. As if this weren't enough cause for concern in itself, the children in the programme seemed to be being diagnosed with two or more disorders at a time. Hence there seemed to be many cases of comorbidity (where there is more than one diagnosis given to a person). As far as I know, comorbidity is quite rare in adults, let alone children, but in their seemingly overwhelming desire to "pathologise" the behaviour of these innocents, the psychiatrists shown here appeared to find a diagnosis for almost all aspects of the children's personalities.
Among the diagnoses given, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) was by far the most common, quickly followed by OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), bi-polar disorder and asperger's syndrome. And, as I say, many were diagnosed with more than one of these illnesses at a time. As if to prove the point that this might just be charlatanism masquerading as science, one child had been diagnosed with something called, "oppositional defiance disorder", a phony diagnosis if ever I heard one, seemingly with the implication that if you are a little bit feisty, tend to disagree with others and don't do exactly as you are told (in other words if you are oppositional and defiant), then you have an "illness" which needs to be treated and possibly medicated. In other words, if you don't exactly conform to society's norms, then there must be something wrong with you- an incredibly dangerous, it would seem to me, path to take, with implications of subservience and control.
Indeed, Theroux raised two main questions in the programme, which were not new ones in the field of psychiatry. One, how much was it that what was just the child's personality was being mistaken for pathology? And, two, that consequently how much of psychiatry was just sheer guess work? For those of you who read this blog, you will know that I have dealt with both these issues in previous posts, but when viewed in the light of the so-called "treatment" of children, their importance appears all the more stark, and one is reminded of the work of the well known figure of the anti-psychiatry movement, Thomas Szasz.
Szasz postulated that, in the wrong hands, psychiatry could become a means of social control, where those whom society found difficult or challenging to deal with could be "medicalised" and so made compliant. It became evident as the programme went on that this, however, was not mere postulation, but rather a statement of fact.
As Theroux visited a number of children who had been thus diagnosed and medicated, it became clear that what they were exhibiting was simply childish behaviour, perhaps typical for their respective ages. When confronting one pair of parents with this view, however, he was simply told that he was witnessing the child in his "medicated" state, and so his behaviour was bound to seem more normal. What, in the end, came over from the parents of most of the children, then, was that because they found their offspring's behaviour challenging, they simply could not take the time to confront it and deal with it. They seemed, to me, to be selfish and lazy people, and though some were highly educated, somewhat stupid to the realities of human nature. One parent, for example, said she just "enjoyed" her child more in her medicated state, because she was quiet and compliant, as if the child were not an individual human being at all, but had been put on this earth for her pleasure alone. The attitude of the schools seemed little better, with children being unceremoniously thrown out because they could not concentrate on their lessons, or fidgeted in their chairs. One psychiatrist even admitted that medicating the children, then, was the easier, cheaper route- there was, perhaps, just not enough time and money to engage the children in talking therapies or other ways of moderating their behaviour, like, might I suggest, a little discipline or tough love. Indeed, it seemed that what this bunch of uniformly unhappy children needed was perhaps a few hugs, to be told that they were loved, to have fun and to be taken out to play and engage with other kids and in general to be given the kind of freedoms and civil rights that other children seem to enjoy inalienably. So it was that one child was diagnosed with OCD because, apparently, he didn't like losing at games and would become disruptive when he did, while another child lived in a family so highly educated and yet so dysfunctional that even the pet dog, yes, ladies and gentlemen, the dog, was on medication for his anxiety.
As if in contrast to this downright absurdity, there was one incident which I found particularly disturbing, where one of the medicated children was picked on by his sister because of his various diagnoses. And so, the ugly shadow of stigma began to rear its head, and this child was having to face it at the age of 10. His response was to "act inappropriately", as the parlance goes, towards his sister. So, who got punished in the end for their behaviour? Yes, of course, it was the child with the "mental illness". One wonders about the effects that such rearing and treatment will have on these children. Having gone though such wierdness, what sort of adults will they really become?
Indeed, it seemed that Louis, a generally quite likable bloke, picked up on all this unfairness and began to sense what the children really needed, and in response to this episode, took this extremely bright, yet surly and unhappy boy, out for ice cream and later, sledging.
So it seems that Szasz's worst fears have been realised. Indeed, this programme, which made me feel incredibly sad for the children and incredibly angry at their parents and psychiatrists, reminded me of one of my blogging friend bazza's observations about R.D.Laing, another luminary of the anti-psychiatry movement, who once asked, who were the really insane ones- the ones being diagnosed or the ones giving the diagnosis? I would suggest, that in this instance, in this bizarre form of what seems to be a peculiarly American madness, it is certainly the ones doing the diagnosing.
That's all for now from your normal, average, paranoid and delusional man.


bazza said…
Hi, David.
I missed that Louie Theroux programme so thanks for this synopsis. It seems that we are moving ever closer to the kind of society described by Aldous Huxley in his Brave New World. It's all about control, conformity and resistant to any kind of percieved difference. When one hears Americans laugh about 'British teeth', they don't realize how we laugh at 'Hollywood teeth'; plastic, perfect and unreal.
That's how they seek to have these children behave; plastic, perfect, unreal.
Thanks for the namecheck!
David said…
Dear bazza,
Yes, it is rather worrying, this excessive need to get peolple to conform to what is perceived as "normal". As far as I could see, these were just children being children, and had no need to be diagnosed with anything, let alone take medication, which could have unforseen effects. As I say in my blog, it made me feel both angry and sad.
Thanks for the comment bazza, I shall be round to "To Discover Ice" soon.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Hi David,
I'd like to have seen that documentary. It sounds like a true assessment, from my location. Many of us have been fighting this for years.
Children are being 'diagnosed' by a school nurse, not a doctor. It's appalling! Then the parents are pressured to follow the nurse's recommendation.
Some states are seeking laws, to force the issue, threatening to take custody of the child should the parent refuse to cooperate. Entire families are pulling up roots and moving to avoid the states that enact this law.
We have a high incidence of child and teen suicide. I think of the old saying: "children should be seen and not heard." How long before none are 'seen' again? We're certainly not hearing them.
Thank you, David, an excellent article.
In peace, dc
David said…
Dear dc,
I think I remember you mentioning this issue before, and I appreciate your interest. As one who has experienced "real" psychiatric problems, I find the diagnosing of children with such things highly questionable. To me, it seems almost to be some sort of abuse- professional malfeasance, at best. I sincerely hope that it stops and children are allowed to be children once again.
Thanks for your comment, dc.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
David said…
This comment has been removed by the author.

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