Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mental Health and Prejudice Against Medication

In a previous post on Ritalin and the Word of Wisdom, I hit some sensitive nerves of faithful members who have had to use psychiatric medications for their children or themselves. One writer, a well known and respected Latter-day Saint defender, Mike Parker, made some excellent points that I wish to share with others to provide insight into the challenges that some parents face. I especially want to urge us all to be hesitant in judging parents whose kids are on Ritalin or other medications, and to urge us to also be more understanding of those who rely on medications to cope with behavioral or mental health challenges. Here are some excerpts from his comments on my post, as well as from subsequent e-mail:
While it is possible that doctors are overprescribing Ritalin, I find it hard to believe that there is a massive movement among educators to recommend it to parents. Every interaction I have had with a teacher or school administrator has been one of strict neutrality on the subject -- don't condemn parents who choose to medicate their children, and don't recommend medication to those who don't. Teachers are not trained medical professionals, and most of them know it.

My 8-year-old son has ADHD, and we have been treating him with Concerta (a time-release version of Ritalin) for about two years now. The medication has been a Godsend for him and our family. His behavior goes way beyond simply "talking in class, wiggling, having lots of energy, [and] not paying attention." He gets up at 5:30 every morning, and cannot be quiet without someone or something to interact with (until recently, this meant waking every else up). He talks incessantly, asking question after question. Fifteen minutes of homework takes him two hours, and that's with me or my wife sitting beside him, constantly redirecting his attention to the work on the table. With medication, he is able to control himself, pay attention, get his homework done, and still enjoy friends, family, and fun. My wife and I thank God for Concerta. . . .

Spend a week in my house with my son and without medication, and then try to tell me that he's just showing "indications of, well, being young." . . .

Our home was once a living hell (I'm not exaggerating), and my wife and I spent many nights on our knees in tears pleading for help. Putting our son on medication was the toughest decision we have ever made as parents, and we still worry about the long-term implications of our decision. It has not been an easy path, but it has made an enormous difference in the quality of our family life and his interactions at home, school, and church.

Needless to say, it's a sensitive subject, and it's easy for me to misread anti-medication statements as opposed to ALL meds, not just meds for kids who don't need it. There are so many people we've met who don't know anything about ADHD except what they've heard: That's it's an excuse for bad parenting, that it's just "kids being kids", etc. In real cases -- like ours -- it's a real condition that can be treated.

In our society there is a real stigma against psychiatric medication. Many people feel that it's a cop out, that with a little effort (or, for Mormons, a little prayer and fasting) the problems will just go away. They don't. And many families are struggling with ADHD, depression, and other treatable problems but won't go to a psychiatrist because they're ashamed or feel that would admit they're weak. I wish we as Americans and as Latter-day Saints could reach out to these people and let them know we empathize and that it's okay to ask for help.

Anti-Ritalin articles compound this stigma. Yes, it's probably true that some children are receiving it who don't need it, but there are many, many children who DO need it whose parents are scared by what they've heard and read online. . . .

One other thing: You might find Michael Fumento's February 2003 article in The New Republic enlightening. He dispels many of the myths about ADHD, including the ones about schools pushing it and children being overmedicated.

http://www.fumento.com/adhd/adhdtnr.html
Mike raises some excellent points to add importance balance to my hasty comments.

I think we also need to be particularly careful in avoiding judgment of those who are suffering from depression or other mental health disorders. In so many cases, it is not simply an imagined illness that they need to shake off. Those who have never faced the burdens of true depression or schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder or panic attacks can rarely appreciate how real and devastating these problems can be. Because we don't see a broken leg or open bleeding wound, it is easy for us to imagine that the illness or injury is not real and certainly doesn't require medication.

May we focus more on helping and supporting than on second-guessing and judging. And that needs to begin right here with yours truly.

Thanks, Mike!

14 comments:

Mike Parker said...

Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in airing another perspective on this difficult issue.

colin said...

Hey...well I was just reading through your site. I just got my mission call last week or so. I'm going to Ljubljana, Slovenia...I leave AUG 24 to the MTC.

Mike Parker said...

Congratulations, colin.

What exactly does that have to do with the topic we're discussing?

Wendy Jo Jensen said...

I've noticed that many people are too proud to take blood pressure medicine, too, and I wonder if the resistence to mental health medicine has anything to do with that. I saw Tom Cruise on TV the other night publicly castigating Brook Sheilds for advocating medication for Post Partum Depression in her new book. His attitude seemed very arrogant and intolerant to me. He said she was being careless; encouraging people to take medications they don't need. He was staunchly opposed to any form of mental health medication, from what I could gather from his conversation. It seemed very strange how vehemently he publicly denounced her. That kind of prideful attitude could be very self-destructive, and possibly destructive to others, as well.

Mike Parker said...

Wendy Jo,

Tom Cruise's opposition to psychiatric medication stems from his belief in Scientology. Scientologists believe that psychology is one of (perhaps the greatest) evil in the world, and that true mental health is brought about through "auditing" people so they become "Clear". They even have a front organization -- "The Citizens Commission on Human Rights" -- that attempts to block legislation and public access to psychiatric care.

More information about this can be had from the Scientologists (pro):
http://www.scientology.org/en_US/religion/heritage/pg011.html

And from Operation Clambake (con):
http://www.xenu.net/

And from Wikipedia (neutral):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientology

Mormanity said...

Colin, look for my son while you're there. He'll enter the MTC the same day, Aug. 24. He's off to the Las Vegas West mission. We're really excited. To help him prepare, my whole family is learning how to play poker. (Just kidding!)

Oh, Mike is right. This has nothing to do with the current post. I'll have to delete the rest of

Wendy Jo Jensen said...

Thank you for those links! I really had no idea that Scientologists actually worked against funding mental health! Pardon the pun, but that's just CRAZY!

Mormanity said...

I don't agree with much of Scientology, but let's be careful about calling other religions crazy. We're all crazy from the perspective of non-believers.

Stephen said...

Kids who do not need Ritalin and who get it are far worse behavior problems as a result. Because it works in reverse (it is a stimulant that calms people down who need it, stimulates people who don't) any kid who gets it and doesn't need it will have everyone dealing with the kid desiring that the kid get off the medication.

It is hard to imagine schools encouraging Ritalin overdosing (compared to overuse of linear drugs in nursing homes).

Mike Parker said...

Stephen,

There are non-stimulant medications available for treating AD/HD. The two most popular are Wellbutrin (a crossover drug originally developed for depression) and Strattera (the first non-stimulant drug developed specifically for AD/HD.

And there are non-drug behavioral modification programs, as well as "natural" remedies.

Wendy Jo Jensen said...

I don't need to tour a mental health facility to know (by simple common sense) that some people need mental health medication and care. What Tom Cruise and (apparently) Scientologists propose is CRAZY! If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. We shouldn't be afraid to call a crazy idea "crazy" either. I cannot in all good conscience condone withholding mental health care and medicine from EVERYONE, and that seems to be what they are proposing or supporting.
Did you ever consider that deliberately and intentionally working to deprive people of publicly funded mental health care, impacts POOR people more than any other group of people? Is this what Jesus Christ would do???
What they did was certainly misguided and ignorant, and YES! CRAZY! I've seen "crazy" before; it masquerades as some ideal they are pursuing but actually in effect, harms people. Ask yourself if withholding health care from everyone, especially poor people harms people." Is that CRAZY? I say "YES.

lance steele said...

I think in this country we are polarized to think every thing a doctor says is better than what we think even if the thinking comes from centuries of practice and results, mental health is sometimes handled with drugs to calm or turn the patient into a drone when it could just be a non distructive trait of the patient, Drugs are not the win all take all like alot of people who now have a resistance to antibiotics found out. there is a balance to all things as the oriental people know is the best answer, we need to fix the base of the problem not mask the systems like drugs do, there are times and reasons to use drugs but it needs to be closely monitored.

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