Not Another Brick in The Wall

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When searching for answers related to mental health, at times it can feel as if one is looking for a door in a brick wall. The task can become even more difficult when a family or individual embraces a diagnosis that seems to define one’s identity permanently. Far too many know that such mental barriers often are difficult to reframe. These walls are hard to dismantle because they are solid; made of life’s brick, mortar and minutiae. No matter how hard we push, no matter how many cracks and crevices we explore, these walls (often strengthened by personal beliefs) seem void of easily discoverable portals that could provide passage to a better place. I’ve encountered a few of these barriers along my own life’s path.

Much of my time these days is spent working with students, educators and parents navigating the world of early diagnosis, and helping them apply common sense to the mental disorders supposedly connected to children. In my efforts to help millions of kids live a life free from ADHD drugs I meet individuals and families on a regular basis searching for a way to break through such walls. With 10,000 plus toddlers being drugged for ADHD, however, I am beginning to wonder if there is no end to how early the mental health world will feel confident diagnosing a child. “Congrats Mrs. And Mr. Farmington, you are the parents of a new baby boy! He weighs 6 pounds and 8 ounces, and he is ADHD.”

Thankfully the majority of people I work with gain a deeper understanding of how the ADHD diagnosis is a pitiful collection of symptoms that just reflect normal childhood behaviors. When I give talks on my book Debunking ADHD, however, there is always one adult in the crowd that will approach me after to say “but I am ADHD!” It’s as if their brick wall is also sound proof, and muffling the words describing how my efforts specifically are focused on exposing how every child is ADHD if we use today’s diagnostic criteria. Such a simplistic all-encompassing assessment should not be considered capable of being a valid test of abnormal behavior. It’s as if these few adults embracing the ADHD identity missed the part of the talk where I read the symptoms for ADHD and everyone in attendance held their hands up acknowledging that they too had as a child or still have today many if not all of the symptoms of ADHD, the All Do Have Disorder.

Despite my efforts to share the pseudoscience behind the diagnosis and the endless dangers to children that come with the drugs prescribed for ADHD, some parents and educators still feel compelled to insist that their child (or student) really is ADHD and that he needs these drugs to behave normal. While most people I reach come to the conclusion that we should stop drugging kids for acting like kids, there are always others who simply can’t make that change in their personal beliefs. They cannot get passed that wall the pharmaceutical companies and their misguided mental health allies have built pill by pill.

The following story is my recollection of one that a personal mentor in psychology once told. I share it with you because I am often left thinking of it after speaking on ADHD. When it comes to convincing adults that drugging kids for acting like kids should be the last resort we never visit, we have our work cut out for us.  Because at times, I worry that for every brick I remove from the walls holding my audience back from breaking through, a billion dollar wing of the pharmaceutical industry has a workforce on the other side putting another brick in its place. Here’s the story…

Once upon a time, a grandfather who was having trouble living on his own, moved into his loving daughter’s home. At first he felt relief to be surrounded by his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. His family however, with their busy schedules and obsessions to technology, rarely ever spoke to him or even noticed he was in the room. As time passed he began to feel as if he was a ghost; a dead man living in their house. Beyond the aches and pains he felt getting out of bed in the morning, not much seemed to challenge that feeling, and he started to believe through and through that he was already dead. With great concern for his mental well-being, his daughter took him to see a clinical psychologist after he shared his belief with her one morning.

After first consulting with the daughter, the psychologist addressed the grandfather, “So you think you are dead?” “Yes, I am.” said the grandfather. “But we are having a discussion…”, explained the doctor.”That’s because I am dreaming.” “So dead men dream?” asked the doctor. “Yes we do.” “Well how do you explain your experience of sitting in the family room watching television with your daughter and her family last night?” “That’s just my subconscious recalling previous events in my life.” “Can your subconscious recall the day you died?” The grandfather stared into the distance and did not answer.

Due to never having a client express such beliefs before, the doctor decided to switch directions. The doctor asked, “Can I see your hand?” The old man reached out, waved his hand and asked, “I don’t know can you?” The doctor said, “Yes I can see your hand, I meant can I touch your hand?” The doctor grasped the grandfather’s hand and pinched his finger. “Did you feel that?” “Yes I did” answered grandfather. “How do you explain feeling pain as a dead man?” “It’s just a physical memory similar to the aches and pains I feel every morning.” The doctor at this point was starting to panic a bit upon realizing there was no convincing this man he was alive. And then suddenly, he had an idea. He asked the grandfather, “Do you think dead men bleed? Not at the time of death of course, but long after one has been dead. Do you think dead men bleed in the afterlife?” “Of course not doctor, what do you think I am, crazy?”

The doctor goes and gets a sharp sterilized pin, and comes back into the room. Sitting across the table from the grandfather, he pokes the grandfather in the index finger and then applies some pressure. A drop of blood comes out of the grandfather’s finger. The doctor then says,” Well look, you are bleeding! What do you think now?” The grandfather, with a look of shock in his eyes says, “Wow Doc! I was wrong! Dead men DO bleed.”

When someone has their mind made up about their state of being (or their child’s mental health), everything they hear and experience seems to support their beliefs. This is a confirmation bias resistant to common sense. When it comes to convincing adults that their children are normal and not ADHD this is often the case. There is still a lot of unlearning to do.

Unfortunately, a testament to the difficulty of this task is the fact that for decades experts and concerned adults have cautioned parents, educators and mental health professionals about the shortcomings of the ADHD diagnosis and dangers of ADHD drugs. If this was not a lion’s feat, the brave words shared for decades by individuals such as Dr. Fred Baughman, Dr. Richard E. Vatz, Dr. Diane McGuinness, Dr. Peter Breggin and many others would have already changed the course of behavioral interventions for kids exhibiting behaviors associated with ADHD. As Dr. McGuinness wrote in 1989:

“The past 25 years has led to a phenomenon almost unique in history. Methodologically rigorous research…indicates that ADD [attention deficit disorder] and hyperactivity as “syndromes” simply does not exist. We have invented a disease, given it medical sanction, and now must disown it. The major question is how we go about destroying the monster we have created. It is not easy to do this and still save face…”

In 1993 and published in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Vatz was even more candid, “Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is no more a disease than is ‘excitability.’ It is a psychiatric, pseudomedical term.”

As a psychologist that focuses his research on child development, I think the symptoms used to diagnose ADHD are symptoms of perfectly normal, albeit slightly annoying, childhood behaviors or developmental delays. ADHD is just a diagnosis of normal; normal childhood challenges that require us adults to put forth more time, effort and patience to navigate through.

Please don’t think I naively thought that showing the public once again how ADHD is basically an invented disorder created by the pharmaceutical companies would be easy or celebrated by all. I understand full well that most parents who drug their child for ADHD did not reach such a decision without high levels of deliberation and deep thought. I can fully understand how accepting a conflicting answer to such a diagnosis is not something that can come without pain, resistance and/or regret. I also suspected that many in the mainstream media and education system would cautiously avoid getting involved by having me share evidence that many before me have tried to bring to the forefront of discussion for decades.

But the mental walls that have been built when it comes to ADHD truly do span and protect the border separating fact from fiction. They are so tall and so thick that many adults can’t see or even hear how those paid by the pharmaceutical companies readily admit to the dangers and long-term ineffectiveness of the ADHD drugs they have built their fortress with. The walls block so many from understanding that the behaviors associated with ADHD are not due to a mental disorder emanating from a child’s sick mind, but instead just a reflection of the normal learning and developmental process we all go through at some level while growing up in social settings that provide a steep learning curve. Why can’t the masses see through the walls that create a major ethical dilemma? Why are so many willing to ignore and avoid the sound evidence telling us why we shouldn’t drug children for ADHD, in exchange for accepting the status quo and continue giving children harmful drugs to make them supposedly behave normal?

To be honest, at times when I think of the Dead Men DO Bleed story, I am not sure if I relate more to the psychologist or the grandfather these days. At times of course I feel like the psychologist trying to convince others that they or their children are not ADHD. At other times I feel as if I am a ghost, speaking and yet no one hears me. But regardless, I’m fairly sure dead men don’t bleed in Heaven, Jannah or whatever afterlife your spiritual beliefs might embrace, and I am 100% confident kids should not be drugged for acting like kids.

Our kids deserve more than a pseudomedical label or some wonder pill that works on a hope and a prayer to make them supposedly behave normal. They deserve a childhood as well as parents and educators that are able to calmly pursue discussions about ADHD. They deserve mentors willing to do whatever it takes to tear down these walls. I hope you will share your thoughts and reflections about this blog, so I can be sure that I am not a ghost and this is not a dream.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Dr Corrigan,

    I spent some time observing ‘hustlers’ as part of my studies. It always amazed me that people could be cheated of every penny in their wallets, and when told that they had no chance of winning, they still refused to believe they had been cheated.

    Of course the difference with con artists is that they use poise to exploit social relationships, white collar criminals use position.

    The best cons are ones where the ‘mark’ is reluctant to complain, as it means they will need to adapt in their view of themselves. What better situation to exploit than the relation between parent and child? How difficult it would be for a parent to accept that they made the wrong decision? The guilt and shame associated with this adaptation?

    I’ve always found that explaining the con to the ‘mark’ as many times as is necessary to see how they have been cheated is the best way. Doesn’t necessarily get them their money back, but word gets around about the conman, and at times they may have to leave town.

    I think that once the rain starts the mortar will wash from the joints, and the bricks will crumble. It can be frustrating waiting for the rain though.

    Kind regards
    A dead man 🙂

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  2. You are soooo0 not a ghost. i share your words and articles often. i just made a new friend and practically the first thing she told me about herself was that her child has adhd and blah, blah… i tried my best to give a short outline of my version of the truth.

    great job, as always. may your words reach those who most need to hear them.

    all the best,

    erin

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  3. That’s for your efforts in saving our children, Dr. Corrigan. As a mom who is anti-drugging children, living in a quick fix world, I think the problem is a group think issue (and, of course, way too much money going into propaganda supporting such). I’ve actually been to cocktail parties where the moms stand around diagnosing other people’s children. Really, it was bizarre, as if they felt important that they could provide “medical” diagnoses, as if they were doctors. But, no doubt, with no knowledge of how potentially dangerous, or even what, the ADHD drugs actually are.

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    • Michael

      Your work and fighting spirit is extremely valuable. I have passed on your writings to many people confused about the ADHD diagnosis.

      I have worked in a community mental health clinic for over 21 years and have challenged Biological Psychiatry and the medical model in many ways over that period. In the recent period I have passed on to leadership two major documents challenging prescribing patterns at my clinic and still (so far)have been essentially ignored. One can often feel alone and like a “voice in the wilderness.” But I do believe things are percolating beneath the surface and very soon, with more public forms of resistance, we will begin to see more visible signs of progress in our movement. Keep up The Good Fight; we need you!

      One secondary criticism I have of your writing is that you tend to downplay the existence of very problematic symptoms in children that end up being labeled as ADHD. All of these mislabeled symptoms are NOT just children being children with extra wild forms of energy.

      Very often some of these very out of control and troubling (and sometimes debilitating) symptoms represent an extreme reaction to the experience of trauma; either directly experienced or observed.

      For us to be taken seriously by parents and others we MUST ACKNOWLEDGE that these more extreme symptoms, or anxiety reactions to trauma, are a very real phenomena. Sleep disturbance caused by trauma experiences, and the related anxiety, can be a major source of the problems that get labeled as ADHD or Bipolar disorder. Of course compassionate help, NOT DANGEROUS DRUGS, is what is needed in these situations.

      I also believe that a subset of these problems are caused by sleep apnea (often related to large tonsils and adenoids), excessive use of media, pressure to be perfect, food allergies, and other environmental toxins.

      Yes, ADHD is a complete invention by Biological Psychiatry, but the excessive anxiety experienced by many young people in today’s world is very real and sometimes very dysfunctional, and we must find constructive and healthy ways to help children (and their parents and teachers) learn to manage and re-channel that energy.

      Richard

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      • Richard,

        As one diagnosed with sleep apnea, I wanted to thank you for mentioning that kids with the same condition can be misdiagnosed as having ADHD. I have read the figure is about 35%, which is definitely not insignificant.

        Unfortunately, even regular medical professionals still have many misconceptions about sleep apnea so I am guessing it isn’t much better with the mental health folks. One of the worst ones is if you are thin, you can’t have the condition.

        I am very heartened that you as a mental health professional understand that sleep apnea can definitely be an issue and result people being misdiagnosed with mental health issues.

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      • Richard,

        You make a good point, childhood angst and anger do exist, and stem from real life problems. After my child was sexually abused, he refused to defecate. And this resulted in auto intoxication. And because my son was literally poisoning himself, he did have extreme and uncharacteristic anger and angst (no doubt, also well warranted, given the crime against him). But his extreme uncharacteristic angst did go away once I was able to get rid of the auto intoxication issue.

        When doctors are presented with the option of easily diagnosable “mental illnesses”
        or looking for the difficult answers, it appears way too often they choose the easy route. I think the mere existence of scientifically “lacking in validity” diagnoses is decreasing the validity of the entire mainstream medical community. Although the standard 15 minute doctor visits aren’t appropriate either.

        And raising children properly is a huge job. I’m quite certain our society’s current ‘women and men both need to work outside the home’ mentality, thus leaving the children neglected, plays a much larger role regarding the issues with children in our society today, than anyone is researching or even discussing. And this is a societal problem, a disrespect for the importance of raising children problem, and a too paternalistic and greed inspired societal problem.

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      • True but a vast majority of “ADHD” cases are simply kids behaving like kids. Some of my friends had problems already when sending their kids to kindergarden. They got complaints about their kids being “hyperactive” because of such abnormal behaviours like climbing onto things (for a 1.5 and 4 year old). Isn’t that what children in these ages are supposed to do? Train their muscles and coordination skills and balance etc.? Yet the people who worked there were complaining (usually it was only one of the caregivers who noticed this horrible “symptom” – I would say it says more about this person than about the child). Fortunately none of my friends is gullible enough to diagnose and drug their precious kids to please someone who doesn’t want to do her job but I’m sure it’s not always the case.

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    • Thanks “Someone Else” and Richard for your input.

      Maybe this is why my wife (a marriage and family therapist) and I don’t receive as many invites to cocktail parties as we used to.;-) If only the “real housewives” could get a copy of my book to discuss during one of their many cocktail parties, then we could set a new worldwide trend for redirecting alcohol-induced armchair diagnosing sessions.

      Richard, thanks for the critique as well. With my blogs I am probably guilty of not clarifying that kids do exhibit signs of maladaptive behaviors. And many of these behaviors go well beyond “normal” behavior. One reason is that I have a hard time writing a short blog (yes I am passed the denial stage), and often in order to share the full synopsis of what I think and feel I run out of room. If you read my book however, you will find that the second half is focused on ways to approach addressing and fixing such serious behavior issues. Getting enough sleep (e.g., setting and sticking to a realistic bed time for kids) is just one of the important components to establishing the structure kids need to behave and think properly. Limiting exposure to electronics is also important. I also think a good dose of mother nature (i.e. being outside) is essential. And most of all increasing quality time with parents, using Love and Logic as my friends Dr. Charles and Jim Fay call it, cannot be overlooked. While some of the more serious and extreme behaviors might be due to something medical or biological, I still believe many of these conditioned/learned behaviors can be reprogrammed with time and hard work.

      But I am probably overdue to write a blog on what else parents and educators can do to overcome behavior issues.

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      • It’s interesting that you seemed to have skipped right over Richard’s main point about trauma being the cause behind some of the more extreme behaviors that kids might exhibit. You refer to medical/biological things. One in every five kids in this country end up being sexually or physically abused or neglected and yet people seem to want to ignore all of this, as if it never happens. I believe that Richard has a very good point that he makes in his reply to you.

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        • Sorry Stephen (and Richard). I agree it is a good point and of course extreme behaviors can be a sign of or result of many forms of abuse experienced or witnessed. I cover such situations (once again) in my book. For example, couldn’t such extreme behaviors also be a “normal” reaction to a child finding out their father has left home, abandoned them? I wasn’t intentionally ignoring it. I was just sitting here nursing the flu bug and politely replying to the constructive point Richard made about my blogs.

          The fact that many mental health issues might be related to abuse or not-so-wonderful family dynamics would be/should be something any caring and qualified professional would consider and explore before using the catch-all ADHD diagnosis. But I also think such professionals equally should consider how ADHD-like behaviors for a much larger percentage of kids might be due to something much less serious than abuse issues; aka simple developmental delays, parenting styles, boring classrooms, etc. The connection to abuse, however, is just one more reason why so many need to stop accepting the 10 minute diagnosis at pediatricians offices or ADHD centers as fact… and get real help from mental health professionals that explore the child’s whole social system they live within. In other words, seek help from those that want to help the whole child, the family, and avoid those that immediately want to take you to the “there’s something seriously wrong with your child’s brain” stage.

          But no matter if we accept the 1 in 5 abused research you share,… or the 1 in 10 suffering child maltreatment, or the 1 in 16 suffering sexual abuse or 1 in 10 witnessing family violence that others share… it all goes back to the fact that the environments our children live in often hold more responsibility (blame) for ‘abnormal” behaviors related to ADHD and other disorders than the medical, biological or even genetic claims so many are trying to sell.

          I’m sure I missed something, but I’m going back to the couch now to sleep.

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          • And may you have a good rest. Thanks for responding and I agree with all that you say. Our children deserve better than what they’re getting these days, whatever the reasons behind their behaviors.

            Thanks for taking up for them and for being their voice in a world that seldom listens to them.

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  4. Michael, You are a warrior and you deserve to have an army behind you.
    I don’t believe in putrified vaccinations with metals in em for preservatives . Homeopathy instead as needed .
    Years ago a friend I knew wrote her masters thesis on Vegetarian Diet. Some years later after having worked for Care in Africa she co-authored a book her name was Mary Ann Anderson . (don’t remember the books title)
    But she wrote about women who had received free baby formula in cans and stopped breast feeding there baby’s and had only a polluted river as a source for water. Their baby’s died from this. The Care workers tried to teach the mothers to go back to breast feeding, would sit with them and patiently explain the danger of the formula mixed with river water until the mothers would say they understood. But as soon as the workers would go away the mothers would go down to the river and get more water to mix with the canned formula. They wanted to be more modern like in America. In the book they wrote after explaining this they concluded >”Knowledge without impetus to change means absolutely nothing. “<
    Another brick in the wall.

    Do the Amish who don't vaccinate deal with psycho-pharma pushers.

    Certainly poverty is a big issue.

    Truly a tragic society that can't protect its children .

    All you can do is the best you can. Worry after that makes no sense .
    Take care of yourself,
    Fred

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    • Thanks Fred! But please don’t worry too much about me. One thing a not so perfect childhood gave me was a thick skin and an inability to ever walk away from a disagreement.

      But as October, the month for pharmaceutical companies like Shire to sponsor organizations like ADDA and CHADD to make fraudulent claims, also known as ADHD awareness month, I could not agree more with you that we need an army.

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  5. Thanks as always, Michael, for your passionate advocacy against one of the most heinous crimes of psychiatry – the drugging of innocent children for their normal childlike exuberance!

    The only thing I’d add to this is that our schools themselves cause “ADHD” to even be an issue in a huge majority of cases. A couple of points on that: 1) there was a recent study showing that waiting a year for Kindergarten admission reduced the rate of ADHD diagnosis by 30%. 2) A great study back in the 70s showed that professionals were unable to identify “ADHD” children in an “open classroom” (think Montessouri style), while they easily identified a matched group of “ADHD” children in a standard classroom setting. So moving the kids to an open classroom essentially eliminated the vast majority of difficulties they exhibited, even though those with the ADHD diagnosis probably suffered from disproportionate levels of abuse, neglect, and trauma outside the home, as well as probably having more sleep difficulties or dietary issues or whatever else is associated with “ADHD.”

    We could “cure” 90% of our “ADHD” population by simply putting them in open classrooms, and having anyone having difficulty in that setting wait a year and restarting school. Knowing this makes the drugging seem all the more horrific by comparison to what might actually be done to help the situation.

    —- Steve

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