A Medicated Nation - Herbal Health

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Sunday, 26 June 2011

A Medicated Nation

I recently read an article about the thousands of American children who are being given potent drugs to treat a disorder that may not even exist (refer to ‘The rise of the bipolar kid’ in New Scientist 4 June 2011; 210(2815: 44-47). This comes as no surprise to me as I have been banging on about our 'medicated nation’ for as long as I can remember to anyone who would listen and quite frankly, anyone intelligent enough to have the foresight to worry. Some would argue that this is not a new trend; for years we have had the valium women (prescribed for the aptly named 'change of life’ aka the menopause), the the raft of antidepressants (remember the book 'Prozac Nation’ that became a bestseller?) which has dominated ever since…. surely it was only a matter of time before children were targeted? We only need to see the boom in antiobesity drugs and bariatric surgery to understand the mindset. I am hoping I am not the only one to worry…

Time and time again, we see the pattern of resorting to drugs to either resolve a difficult problem or worse still, to deal with complex yet preventable issues because they are a downright inconvenience and the preference is to take the easy route to fixing them. The New Scientist article highlights the dangers of misdiagnosing and categorising children as patients with a condition as serious as bipolar simply becuase their parents cannot deal with their behaviours. One should ask, how this has arisen (were they abducted by aliens soon after birth and removed from this whole process of parenting??). This is the mystery…. given that we have been having children (forever) and parenting is not a new concept! It’s surely worrying to misdiagnose bipolar but more so in children simply because the description, diagnostic process and true incidence of the condition continues to be debated by psychiatrists and other consultants specialising in this field. Children are developing in mind, body, behaviour and emotion - to prescribe drugs at this crucial stage of developent will only lead to long-term, devastating consequences on so many levels.

Take my esteemed colleague who, in amongst his glittering career as a physicist and researcher, had humble beginnings as a maths teacher at his local school. He was shocked and amazed at the number of children on ritalin, prescribed to abate the worse excesses of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). He is still trying to work out if the mere prospect of maths was the trigger point despite my assurances that poor parenting and the culture of drug prescription and diagnosis was more likely to be at the heart of it! This is not to say that ADHD does not exist, the worry emanates from the sheer numbers being diagnosed and easy access to medication in cases of neglect, lack of appropriate intellectual and emotional stimuli and poor parenting. I would like to think that the culture of change has already started with many parents worried about the long-term effects of these drugs on their children, as well as better education and information about child health, setting appropriate challenges for children and helping parents take greater responsibility for their children. A tall order perhaps…….

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