Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Overmedicated Myth - The Daily Beast

Are doctors and parents trying to “perfect” children through various cocktails of medications? That’s what Judith Warner assumed, until she began researching her new book—and found that we are not, after all, a Ritalin nation.

Aren’t all kids on some kind of medication? Isn’t everyone diagnosed with something these days? Isn’t ADD as common as the sniffles?

Not really, says Judith Warner, author of the new book We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication. Warner is best known for outing the culture of overparenting in her first book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, and her Domestic Disturbances column on The New York Times Web site, and now she’s decided to quiet the cacophony of misconceptions about children, medication, overdiagnosing, and overmedicating in one confident hush.

How does Warner do it? She starts by challenging her own beliefs.

When she began writing her book, almost five years ago, she came to it thinking the narratives the media had spun about children and medication were true: Parents were trying to “perfect” their children through various cocktails of medications; doctors were going prescription-happy; and kids who occasionally got sad were being labeled “depressed.”

“Those assumptions, however, weren’t borne out by clinicians, parents, children, or statistics,” says Warner, who did lots of research to support her thesis.

Here’s what the numbers teach us:

About 5 percent of kids take psychiatric medication and, depending on how one reads the data, anywhere between 5 and 20 percent of kids today have mental-health issues. We are not a Ritalin nation. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, attention deficit disorder occurs in about 3 to 5 percent of school-age children.

The overmedicated and overdiagnosed child, Warner argues, is a media embellishment. And it’s become an obsession and storyline that eclipses the realities.

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