On Mental Illness: Children on Medication

By Jack Bragen
Saturday October 22, 2011 - 07:41:00 PM

Have you seen the television commercial that advertises a new medication for children with hyperactivity and attention deficit? The commercial shows a well-behaved, sedated little kid doing his homework and being an angelic little boy, while at the same time a list of possible side effects is being read over the sound portion of the commercial. If you’re paying any attention to those side effects, it sounds horrific. If you’re paying attention to the portrayal of the child, you ought to be horrified. No child should be that well-behaved; it’s not natural. 

The biological model of mental illness is just fine, if it is limited to the situations in which it is accurate. The drug companies are making huge profits by selling the medication concept to more Americans. If a child really needs medicine, they should have it. However, maybe other solutions could be explored first. 

I believe it is fairly rare for mental illness to have an onset at any age before seventeen or eighteen. The illnesses seem to take effect at that age when the brain makes a critical change into adulthood. The illnesses may also take effect in early twenties, which probably coincides with some other critical change in the maturity of the brain. As a child, I did not know or hear of any mentally ill kids. If they had what today is called ADHD, rather than being medicated, they would be put into a less advanced class, or might be subject to disciplinary actions. I’m not saying this is a great thing either. 

This column contains the opinions of a writer with mental illness. I am not a doctor, nor am I an expert on any subject. My opinion is that it is wrong to medicate every problem in society, and especially wrong to treat all childhood behavior problems with medication. I believe medicating a child ought to be a last resort, after everything else has been tried. (This is other than for a child who is suicidal; in that case I have no opinion except to consult a doctor.) 

When medication is introduced, just as with many substances that change behavior, you are inducing structural changes to the brain. The brain may adapt to the presence of the substance by creating more receptors of a certain type, or by shutting down certain receptors. Thus, if you want to withdraw the medication later, you may not be able to do that without causing the brain to go haywire from the withdrawal. When you begin medicating a person preemptively in childhood, you could be sentencing the child to an entire life of being dependent upon successively increasing amounts and types of medications. 

Mental illness is a real group of diseases affecting the human brain. I believe in treating mental illness with medicine. But before you do that, maybe you should establish that the person is too far gone for use of less drastic forms of intervention. In my case, medication was and is the only thing that could liberate me from a never ending affliction with very severe psychosis, and behavior to match. Medication is not a great thing; it is an evil thing that is often made necessary by some of the worst diseases that afflict humankind. .