I used to think that the counseling center would help me to resolve my inner conflicts. That visiting the center would do some good for me. I have since realized that most mainstream “mental health” is more damaging than helpful. These days if student counselors see any problem with a student visiting the center, they send him or her to see a psychiatrist.
School-based strategies such as the “talk to your doctor” campaign about any childhood problem have been extremely effective in helping the pharmaceutical industry to marginalize traditional child-rearing practices and replace them with advice from mental health “experts” and the use of dangerous drugs. These campaigns are reminiscent of now-illegal vintage tobacco ads in which doctors endorsed cigarette smoking.
Imagine being a parent at a meeting with educators to discuss Johnny's academics or behavior. Suddenly, your child’s teacher is telling you that he needs to see a doctor for an assessment of a suspected “mental disorder,” which usually leads to a prescription for medication. Warned of “the risks against failing to intervene,” you will likely acquiesce.
Simple changes such as keeping a calm home environment, limiting media distractions and enrolling your child in sports will help a child who is inattentive or having problems focusing on his or her school work. They are also useful for any child and can even prevent inattentiveness in an ever-more-distracting world.
When I teach workshops or lead discussions on coming off psychiatric drugs and alternatives, there are invariably parents present who are at loose ends. They want to know how best to help their children, and how it can be possible for their child to live without medication. Here are seven ideas I share with them that may also help you.
Diagnosing children with juvenile or pediatric bipolar disorder is largely an American phenomenon. Do we actually have more “bipolar” children in the United States—or are we simply labeling more of them as such? If it is ever fair to call a child “manic,” isn’t the child’s environment the direction in which we should look?
To be a parent of a suicidal child is to be in a terrible position, where you hold in your hands the life most valuable to you and know that any slip of your hands may end that life. In the 1970s, my suicidality was treated nonmedically and I lived. In the 2000s, my daughter Martha’s suicidality was treated medically and she died.
It would take decades before I recognized the trauma caused by repeatedly being separated from my mom when she was hospitalized. I grieved almost exactly the way children did who had lost a parent to death. Yet it was grief without closure because my mom was not dead, just... gone.
The fact that we shame people for acting like they need attention (and for actually needing attention) is self-defeating and maddening, not to mention absurd. Living in a society that punishes people for having fundamental needs like attention is probably one of the reasons people have developed behaviors “just” to “get attention.”
Regular MIA readers may have noticed that we recently added a content box on the front page titled “Parent Resources.” This initiative has been a long time coming, and it is one that we hope will help us reach—and serve—a new group of readers. Many parents writing to us are desperately looking for a way out of the conventional system.
For years I had hoped that psychiatry would free itself from the psychoanalytic doctrine, and when my wish finally came true, my profession went from the frying pan to the fire. My main goal, currently, is to convince professionals as well as the public that most child psychiatric problems can be handled effectively without medication.
STAT recently published an opinion piece arguing that the black box warning on antidepressants has led to an increase in adolescent suicide. It is easily debunked, and reveals once again how our society is regularly misled about research findings related to psychiatric drugs. STAT has lent its good name to a false story that, unfortunately, will resonate loudly with the public.
Disturbingly, our study and others reveal that the black box warning is now ignored in many countries, since antidepressant prescriptions for children are on the rise again. Despite increasing certainty that antidepressants are ineffective and likely cause suicidal behavior in young people, psychiatry continues to claim that they reduce suicide risk.
The only way out of the epidemic of feeling-people-turned-medicated-psychiatric-patients is to rebrand and reframe feeling as a cultural collective. And I believe it starts with our messaging as parents and our orientation toward shadow elements like anger and sadness. We have to model a conscious relationship to our own dark parts, and we have to show our children what it looks like to move through these spaces. Feelings can be messy, wild, and sometimes ugly to our constrained sensibilities.
When I was training to be a child psychiatrist in the mid-1990s, childhood depression was considered to be rare, related to adversity, and generally unresponsive to pharmaceutical treatment. Since then much has changed. The psychiatrization of the pain and struggles involved in growing up has caused considerably more harm to young people than good. I believe the science is on my side in this conclusion.
Parents must inform themselves about the flaws in the current paradigm if they are to have any chance of thinking sensibly about what might be distressing their child. Toward that end of providing information about those flaws, I interviewed Richard Hallam, author of the new book Abolishing the Concept of Mental Illness: Rethinking the Nature of our Woes.
Is every defiant child a freedom fighter? Of course not. Disrupting your fourth grade class is not the same as embarking on the underground railway. But is oppositional defiant disorder a label meant to subjugate and to serve the needs of the authorities? Yes, absolutely.