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Kids Room Health Pills and mental imbalances
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Pills and mental imbalances
 There is a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Hobbes finds Calvin at his desk beginning a homework assignment ahead of time. Hobbes invites Calvin to come play outside in the freshly falling snow. Calvin doesn't hear him and says: "What? Oh, sorry I wasn't listening. Look, I really have to finish this." The last panel of the strip shows Calvin diligently working on his paper with Hobbes sitting next to him, only he has reverted back to his lifeless stuffed animal form.


I was prescribed Ritalin at age 14. I stopped taking it by age 16. It changed me. It made me un Calvin like. It took away what made me me and replaced it with a chemical. ADHD is over-diagnosed. It is a miracle word for parents with children who don't get the best grades or who disrupt classes, it is a miracle word for the pharmaceutical industry who makes millions of dollars every year from products like Ritalin going to children who hardly need it, and it is a miracle term for some of us diagnosed with it who can make a pretty dollar turning it around as speed on college campuses.

I don't regret taking myself off the medication, nor do I regret my time spent on it. What makes me angry though, is that I was never offered the choice. It was the decision of my parents, my teachers, the doctors; I was just a body without a voice. Since I stopped taking the ritalin I've met a handful of other people my age who were prescribed similar drugs for similar mental imbalances. Some of them still took their medicine, others didn't, all of us were angry at our diagnoses and our diagnosers.

It's a tricky subject no doubt, diagnosing mental imbalances in children. How is it even possible to gauge the mind as it is still developing? And after that how is it even possible to prescribe for that before the mind is finished developing? Pills alter brain chemicals and can leave longterm change. How can that decision be made for a child? Who knows what his best interests are at such a young age? As I said I know some people my age still on mental balancing medication, for them it works. For them they can't stop taking their mood stabilizers without endangering themselves and they, more than anyone else, is aware of that. So they remain on them. But that was their decision. How can anyone but the owner of the brain make that decision?

At the time I was under the whole "I'm young, they know best" deal. And I thank the pills because they proved to me that "no, when it comes to my mind and body, I know best." But looking back on that time period now, with the speculation of experience and the experience of my friends, I don't know where to stand on the issue. What are the ethical dillemmas of prescribing for mental imbalances, or even diagnosing them? Are the rules any different for kids? They must be, but there must also be a way to invite the child into the discussion in a way I never was.

How do you as parents deal with this? And how do we as the diagnosed respond?
Mood stabilizing drugs are a scary thing. It's scary that something so small, something so easily reduced to powder, can so measurably affect personality. I've met so many people that have been on drugs like this who complain that they no longer feel anything, neither ups nor downs. I am hesitant to fully believe them, because I hang out with them and see their ups and see their downs. Maybe what they mean is they no longer fall so far at the expense of not being able to fly so high.

But I have other friends who drop to their knees in thanks for the medication that brought them away from the edge. They are genuinely happy and give all credit to the pills, often forgetting that it is us humans who give the medication power over us. It's easy to say that drugs like ritalin take away personality and separate us from ourselves, but we forget that for every person who rejects the medication, there is someone whose life was saved by that very same pill.

Your worries on the matter are legitimate Patrick, that it isn't right for children to be forced into these lifechanging decisions without a say in the matter. But sometimes parents do know best. And sometimes the children do. It's the responsibility of the parents and the doctors to talk to the child to let them know every facet of the decision. The problem I see, is that many children are being prescribed these medications before they reach an age where they can take part in these discussions. How is it possible that a kid can be diagnosed as bipolar at the age of  6? That's ridiculous.

Mood stabilizing/altering medications are a blessing and a curse. For some people they work and for some people they don't. I agree that it is the choice of the individual first, but doctors are smart people and they really do have our best interests in their mind (for the most part). It is the duty as the diagnosed to listen to other people as much as themselves. Sometimes brains lie and sometimes they don't.
I've wondered for awhile what depression is. What is schizophrenia and bipolarism? What are all those candy-colored pills behind the medicine cabinet? Were our bathrooms so filled 100 years ago? 

That depression is a disorder is now universally acknowledged. Huh? If depression is a disorder then undepression must be the standard. If depression is wrong, then not being depressed must be correct. Does that sit well with anyone? 

Those prophets and seers of antiquity, what were they? By today's pharmaceutical standards they were probably lunatics. Madmen and schizos. But back then? They conversed with Gods. They were geniuses and divine. They were worshipped and protected by the community. Now they are left alone to sleep on subway grates. I wonder how they fared through the snow in New york this week.

It's fine to say that medication is finally the boon the world has waited for these last 10,000 years. Little 5mg pills issuing reality to those who've lived their entire lives outside of it. But I don't think medication addresses the problem. Mental illness isn't wrong, it just doesn't fit into the "normal." The danger of taking medication is that it absolves the individual of self-power. By taking pills to conform to a societal norm, he admits to some degree that he doesn't deserve control of his own faculties. I'm not necessarily suggesting that medication is universally an evil, only that it is too easily prescribed. 

But let me come back to my original inquiry. What is depression? Why is it wrong? Why is depression a medical condition and not merely a personal condition? An emotional condition?  

In response to Morgan Milford
A few thoughts:
True, mental illness isn't "wrong" but clinical depression is a lot more than just a personal condition.   Real clinical depression cannot be easily dismissed as mere anything because real mental illness kills people - suicide isn't normal.  Just 'having the blues', just feeling a bit down, these don't kill people, but clinical depression destroys lives.   Clinical depression chews up people and spits them out when there is little left of them left to function.   
It is estimated that around 20% of people diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia kill themselves, and I think the stats I have seen suggest at least the same again try to do it without success.   
And on top of that total of fatalities, there will be those who never get so far as being diagnosed before they take their own lives.  One problem here is that it's not uncommon for a decade to pass before people with Bipolar Disorder are diagnosed and treated appropriately.    The other factor contributing to this is that people who suffer with clinical depression often hide it from their friends, their family if they can, and from work colleagues.  Sometimes they'll even hide it from their doctors!  It isn't that they don;'t want help - they do.  But they want the right kind of help, help from people who will not judge or give inappropriate, often wounding, advice .... like "Pull yourself together!"    So, the true mortality rate may be higher than 20% .

That is depression.
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Latest Post: March 23, 2011 at 1:04 PM
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