Medicating troubled teens and younger children

by Ken Braiterman

Medicating troubled teens did not exist when I was one.

Far too often, doctors and school officials present medicating troubled teens and younger children to parents as relatively risk free, the only option, not one of many.  Both those statements are demonstrably false, though many children are helped by medicine in the short term.

Medicating troubled teens and younger children has gone on long enough to study long-term outcomes, which look increasingly disturbing.

Outcomes of Medicating Troubled Teens

In the award-winning  Anatomy of An Epidemic (2010), Robert Whitaker says, “Twelve of 15 studies of SSRI’s, a family of anti-depressants that includes Prozac and Paxil, showed no short-term benefit for young people over placebo. But they can cause a host of physical and mental health problems; 25 percent of youth treated with anti-depressants convert to bipolar disorder.”

Before the 1980s, when medicating troubled teens and younger children became widespread, bipolar disorder was virtually unknown before puberty, Whitaker says. Today, one percent of all American children have it, and more than 65 percent of them developed bipolar after being treated with a stimulant or anti-depressant, he says.

I Survived Before Medicating Troubled Teens Was Possible

As a suicidal teenager in the early ‘60’s, I was saved by my special gift and motivation for Jewish studies, and the fuss college professors at the Baltimore Hebrew University made over me, (I attended 10 hours a week after school in junior high and high school.)

Local and national Jewish leaders who visited my father and grandfather allowed me to sit at their table as an equal.  It all gave me a sense of competence, importance, purpose, direction, and community that I did not get from public school.

Knowing I had value and an important place in the Jewish community saved me.  Medicating troubled teens was impossible because anti-depressants and mood stabilizers did not exist.  Anti-psychotics (major tranquilizers) were only were only used in mental hospitals.

The other thing that saved me was sandlot, intramural baseball and foo ball.  The other guys wanted me on their team, though I was not good enough to play on the organized school teams.  Even if I had been, I could not have gone to practice every day because of my Hebrew school schedule. Jewish studies were important to my self-esteem and my future in a way school sports could never be.

Alternatives to Medicating Troubled Teens

At Wellness Wordworks, we believe it’s not helpful just to dump on medication, the schools, or the mental health system.  We try to create positive alternatives.

Instead of medicating troubled kids, we should help them find something to do that gives them a sense of worth, competence, community, and purpose.  Kids also need alternatives to sports and being academically talented because not every child can do those things well.

Often, kids get depressed because they don’t do well in school or sports, and are different and unpopular.  Medicating troubled teens, who might be better off running, riding bicycles, acting in plays, writing, drawing, or learning to play music, should not be presented to the kids or their parents as the only option.

Wellness Wordworks sponsors Poetry for Personal Power  which encourages college kids to use spoken word poetry to deal with adversity. Bike 4 the Brain encourages people of all ages to release their natural endorphins, nature’s best anti-depressants — and they’re FREE.

Ken Braiterman, Wellness Wordworks board chair, is a regular blogger on this site. He lives in Concord, NH, and can be reached through his website www.kenbraiterman.com or his Facebook page.

Wordworks Blog Author: Ken Braiterman

Ken Braiterman, Wellness Wordworks board chair, has been an activist, news reporter, opinion writer, and columnist since 1968. From 1997 to 2009, he was New Hampshire's leading advocate for recovery-based mental health services. He is an advanced Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) facilitator.

1 comment to Medicating troubled teens and younger children

  • Smith

    Not all medicines will really do well to the user. As what Robert Whitaker said that Prozac and Paxil contribute to the development of bipolar. Parents should always see to it that the stimulant and anti-depressant will not cause them to develop such disorder.