Mental illness in children: medical issue or fig leaf?

Dana’s online mind and brain magazine Cerebrum has a critical and thought-provoking article arguing that mental illnesses like ADHD and child bipolar disorder are too often being used as fig leaves for social problems that we prefer to think of as blame-free genetic disorders that can be treated with simple-solution medications.

The piece is by distinguished psychologist Jerome Kagan, considered one of the founders of developmental psychology, who discusses the various social changes that have encouraged differences and misbehaviour to be medically diagnosed and treated – particularly during the last two decades.

The article is timely, owing to it coinciding with recent revelations from an ongoing trial where parents are suing drug makers over the use of antipsychotic medication in children.

The documents show that pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson aimed to carry out research on child bipolar disorder with a specific intention of boosting sales of their medication, as well as countering unfavourable coverage from the media and spinning ‘no result’ studies on the drug.

We usually think of ‘social factors’ as increasing risk for mental illness in the individual, but we also need to remember that there are strong social factors that affect how we think about disorders in terms of their causes, effects and treatments.

One of the strongest social factors is financial pressure, and, as covered by Wired, drug companies are notorious for ‘cooking the books’ in an attempt to bury negative data and spin positive findings in the best possible light.

This has just been reported in yet another damning study on drug company data handling published in the most recent edition of PLoS Medicine.

Link to Dana article ‘The Meaning of Psychological Abnormality’.
Link to PLoS Medicine study on bias in drug trials submitted to the FDA.

One Comment

  1. martyfmelb
    Posted November 27, 2008 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    I believe that diagnoses for ADHD, depression, and a whole host of other related mental (pre-frontal cortex-related) conditions is a fig leaf for not just social change gone wrong, but also dietary change gone wrong.
    People I know have straight-out *dropped* their SSRI antidepressants, and picked up omega-3 fish oil, and come out of it with the same mental stability and *no* loss of sex drive.
    It is also possible that big pharma have in fact hijacked public opinion with respect to the question, “How do we fix these conditions?” – and, as psychopathic large corporations are prone to doing, provided their own answer – “With this drug of course!”, instead of, “Are you eating right? Is your home environment stable? Is there someone making you unhappy?”, in other words, “Is every major environmental factor of your brain in good condition?”


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