Neuroanthropology has found a highly amusing video clip from the satirical US comedy show The Colbert Report on the increasing use of psychiatric drugs in children, something he dubs ‘psychopharmaparenting’.
Colbert riffs on 2006 article from The New York Times that reported a five-fold increase in children being prescribed antipsychotics.
These drugs are typically not prescribed because a child is experiencing psychosis (for reasons that no-one is entirely sure of, children only rarely become psychotic) but because of behavioural problems.
One antipsychotic drug (risperidone) has been approved in some countries for children with autism who are aggressive, self-injure or have severe tantrums, but the concern is that these sorts of drugs are being used more widely to simply pacify difficult to manage children.
Methylphenidate (Ritalin) is another drug which has caused similar concerns as parents and teachers pressure doctors to prescribe the drug even for what used to be considered relatively mild problems of inattention and hyperactivity.
The official line is that these drugs are the last resort, because behavioural interventions – specific programmes that teach parents to manage children’s behaviour in a more effective way – are remarkably effective with a large evidence base to back them up.
Unfortunately, despite not meddling with the brain’s dopamine system to who-knows what long-term effect, they’re not as well-known, not always available and require effort and learning.
Any decision to give medication involves weighing up and advantages and disadvantages, but there is always an interplay between the influence of the scientific evidence, and what has become socially acceptable.
The fact Colbert is able joke about psychopharmaparenting is a sign of how widespread the practice has become.
Link to psychopharmaparenting clip.