America on Meds: Our Future

imagesAccording to a report in the New York Times, almost one in five U.S. high school boys has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and over half of those takes medication (usually Ritalin or Adderall).

The American Psychological Association is planning to revise the definition of ADHD. To curtail over-diagnosis, you might think. You’d be wrong. It’s to allow even more people to be diagnosed and medicated.

There is no clear-cut diagnostic test for ADHD. It’s just a subjective judgment, based on talking with kids, parents, and teachers. And, the Times notes, even that process is often skipped due to time constraints and parental pressure.

images-5The above was going to be the start of a sneering blog post. However . . .

It is indeed easy to sneer at all the medicated people in America – as though it’s not living authentically, like zombies, or something. Or to cynically cast the pharmaceutical industry as drug pushers trying to hook us on their products, for profits’ sake, contributing to ever-rising health costs.

Yet, the fact is, we get a lot of value for that spending. If living authentically and unmedicated means pain and suffering, and early death, you can keep it, thank you very much. Modern medicine gives us lives not only longer but of better quality. That’s worth paying plenty for. I’ve mentioned that someone close to me takes a medication that literally changed a crappy life to a happy life.

This is why Ritalin too is so popular. It improves self-control and focus, and school performance; it’s been called the “good grade” pill, the academic analog of steroids in sports. And as I’ve emphasized, America has a real problem with under-education. If Ritalin helps with that, good.

Unknown-2I’m reminded of Lincoln being warned of General Grant’s drinking. “Whatever he’s drinking,” Lincoln replied, “give it to my other generals.”

But what does bother me are the D’s in ADHD – “deficit” and “disorder.” It’s part of what I call the medicalization of normality. There isn’t one rigid behavior pattern that should be expected for everybody. UnknownHumans are complex and diverse and traits range along a spectrum, the classical bell-shaped curve. Some, for example are highly sexed (JFK, Clinton); others are the opposite (Nixon); most fall in between; but only at the extremes might it make sense to talk of “disorder” rather than merely normal variation.

The same applies to ADHD. This “disorder” should, in most cases, be more simply diagnosed as being a kid.

Now, as in everything, drugs like Ritalin have their trade-offs, with potentially undesirable side-effects. I generally believe people should be free to choose for themselves, but kids of course may be unable to. So caution is in order. But if families, weighing the risks, decide that such chemicals will improve the quality of a child’s life, I say go for it – with no need to stigmatize him as having a “disorder.”

Meantime pharmacology is advancing, and “better living through chemistry” will become increasingly available. Ritalin is just a foretaste; we can expect a more general “happy pill.”

This seemingly evokes Brave New World’s “soma” pill making everyone serene zombies. But this dystopian notion reflects what is again an irrational prejudice. There is no qualitative distinction between feelings induced chemically versus “naturally.” The neurons’ activity is the same, and any idea that one “should” feel different than one actually feels is incoherent. Anyhow, there is no virtue in authenticity to the extent it entails suffering that can be ameliorated. As I’ve argued, the only source of meaning, whatsoever, in the Universe, is the feelings of beings capable of feeling. How such feelings are affected is ultimately the only ethical touchstone.

Ethics does also encompass justice. And if you feel bad because you’ve done wrong, you should. But that’s a special case; more generally happiness is not deserved or undeserved. While some scolds do view it as something to be striven for, through a life well-lived, etc., the reality is that genetic make-up plays a big role. This makes happiness or unhappiness something befalling people, a matter of luck more than personal responsibility.

Unknown-1We actually already have widespread use of mood altering drugs: alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, sugar; and, for Depression sufferers, SSRIs like Prozac and Zoloft. But why shouldn’t everyone be free to utilize such a medication intended simply to make one feel better? Especially if it can be engineered to avoid the nasty side effects of drugs like alcohol or tobacco. (Even if addictive, that by itself would not be a problem absent other ill-effects, if the pill is widely affordable.)

I recently came across a 2009 Free Inquiry article, The Case for Happy-People Pills, by Mark Alan Walker. He argues that such a pill would be profoundly egalitarian. images-4Differences in the genetic propensity for a happy disposition constitute an inequality more salient than wealth differences. After all, wealth is only an instrumentality toward happiness, and one can be happy without it. A happy pill would enable us to distribute more fairly the bottom line desideratum of well-being, by giving it to those not lucky enough to win the genetic lottery for a happiness predisposition. And this, unlike with wealth redistribution, could be achieved without taking anything away from anybody.

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70 Responses to “America on Meds: Our Future”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    What about the notion that we are able–to a certain degree–to affect our own mood simply by changing how we think and see the world, i.e. by deciding to be an optimist instead of a pessimist? Obviously, there are some people who have mental disorders that prevent them from thinking in such a way, and such people should have access to medication. But for most of us, thinking the rights thoughts can make a big difference, and we shouldn’t automatically turn to medication just because we’re having a bad day.

    Moreover, I would argue that the “bad” days make the “good” days all the more enjoyable. Would we appreciate happiness in the same way if we did not also feel pain, sadness, and loneliness?

    On another note, students in college and high schools have been known to use ADD or ADHD drugs, such as Adderall, to help them study and focus even if they don’t actually need them. Sometimes, this leads to dangerous outcomes such as addiction or even death (granted, this is probably not the norm). Also, the more people who start taking Adderall, the more pressure there is on those who don’t to jump on the bandwagon, or else risk being out-done by their medicated peers. If everyone takes Adderall, no one will be any better off, respective to one another, than before, but we’ll all be dependent on medication.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    Dear “Anonymous” — Re your first paragraph, I admire your positive attitude. You may know that I have tried to argue for the optimistic outlook; and Martin Seligman (Albany Academy alum), in “Learned Optimism,” shows how we can change our psychologies. However, it’s unrealistic to expect most people to do this, at least not without a lot of psychotherapy. Someone close to you spent years in talk therapy trying to learn to “think the right thoughts,” but in the end it was a chemical that did the trick.

    Your second paragraph contains some truth, but I don’t think it’s a good argument for tolerating pain, sadness and loneliness. Life entails enough of that, and our mission is to reduce it. While these dark clouds may have some silver linings as you say, they are still dark.

    Re your third paragraph, yes, it may be like keeping up with the Joneses; if everybody increases their incomes similarly, they wind up in the same relative positions. But don’t forget they now have higher incomes! So even if a school full of Adderallers produces the same class rankings, if each kid is able to study better and learn more, they are NOT just where they were before.

    Your comment seems to reflect an instinctive prejudice, that I tried to address, that a medicated state is somehow intrinsically (morally?) inferior to a nonmedicated state. That’s not true if the result is feeling better and happier. The only question is whether the medication, all effects considered, truly produces that outcome.

  3. njmolinari Says:

    Your article is interesting but you seem to ignore the fact that long-term use of drugs like Adderall has serious side-effects for those who do not actually need the drug, many of which are still being uncovered. Ask a pharmacist what he thinks and he’ll tell you you’re playing with fire, because he understands what these drugs actually do to the human body, beyond making us feel good. I might be able to take high powered stimulants and get straight A’s now, but when I’m 35 and dying of thyroid cancer, I’ll probably regret it. So will society when they have to float the bill for the wife and children I leave behind.

    Also, have you ever read any Thomas Szasz? He’s not as optimistic as you, but I think you’d like him anyway. I highly recommend “The Medicalization of Everyday Life” and “Pharmacracy”.

    Nick

  4. rationaloptimist Says:

    Nick, thanks. Actually, I did explicitly recognize side effects; and, to be clear, I am not actually saying everybody should take these kinds of drugs. I never have myself. What I do say is that the downsides have to be balanced against the upsides — and there are important upsides. Life is always about trade-offs.

    I am indeed familiar with Szasz, have quoted him before, and yes, some of what he says is relevant here. As for reading him, I did buy one of his books, but didn’t get far with it, finding it unreadable.

  5. Jessica Says:

    Agreed with others that we should be cautious about side-effects. But even any physical health consequences of Ritalin aside, in an imaginary world where there weren’t any for example, it’s interesting to think even then if it would be desirable to make it readily available as an over-the-counter thing to enhance anybody’s capacity for attention at any moment.

    Because in a world where focus and discipline are skills all of us feel like we could use more of, having a shortcut to them seems positive. But as has happened with so many commodities when humans gain relatively unlimited access to them (from food to mobile information) I wonder if there would be a downside to dismantling the natural barriers to over-consumption.

  6. olivebecks Says:

    Reblogged this on olivebecks and commented:
    I thought this was very insightful. I myself do not believe in over medicating or medicating at all for ADD or ADHD. Very interesting read.

  7. allthoughtswork Says:

    Back in the day, I’m sure my own pencil-tapping, leg-wiggling, loud mouthed self would’ve been diagnosed ADD and slapped with some pretty heavy meds. But in those days, I was simply another hyper kid who needed to learn how to channel my own high energy. I redirected my attention in order to regulate my experience. I found out I could control my own stimulation. I learned how I learned. Today, I’m still hyper, wiggly, and talkative as all hell but I’m also healthy, happy, and living independently without the weighted social stigma of a psychological diagnosis or the burden of medical bills.

    We are not sheep, we are not all the same no matter how much the school system would like us to be for their own convenience. Medicating people into submission so that outdated teaching methods can stay consistent is asinine. Every aspect of an individual is a skill to be harnessed and honed. Hyper can become athlete, distractable can become explorer, frustrated can become activist, motormouth can become motivational speaker. Don’t drug it away.

    Today, my clients marvel at how youthful and ebullient I am and I tell them, “That’s because I never wasn’t.”

  8. segmation Says:

    It is sad that we American’s are so into using meds to fix things. Isn’t there any other way?

  9. Gabriel Says:

    Why not use medication to ‘fix’ things? Honestly I’m shocked it isn’t a option, granted the side effects need to be weighted by the individual but as technology moves forward we should embrace what it has to offer. Why is owning a smart phone more socially acceptable than trying to better yourself for your educational purposes. There are side effects to owning a phone, namely the affects of so much screen time, I don’t buy into the cancer bit.

    Kids today need to learn and understand more because we know more, so it only makes sense that we should help normalize the increasing amount of knowledge that kids should know. Sir Arthur Eddington was once asked by a reporter is it true that only three people in the world understand relativity, to which he replied who is the third? Now it is taught in high schools, it’s almost a novelty.

    Yes, there is an individual somewhere can do it without any help, many in fact, But does that mean that the people who want help shouldn’t get it? I think we will stagnate if we adopt that mindset, if my body is my temple, I should be able to control what I want in it within reason and deal with the repercussions.

    Very thought provoking, obviously. Thank you for writing it.

  10. jtjohnson13 Says:

    “And as I’ve emphasized, America has a real problem with under-education. If Ritalin helps with that, good.”

    I do not think that student effort/ student learning is the problem. There is a larger, more important issue we need to fix in our education system. Believing that these types of drugs are a “fix” is extremely short-sighted.

    The widespread use of these drugs in academia is basically like treating the symptoms and not the underlying problem. Of course, some people do need them, but they should not be distributed to everyone.

    These drugs also cost a lot of money… and not everyone has the money to buy these drugs. I feel like this would further separate socioeconomic conditions that already exist, that is unless we decide to the government should buy them for everyone…

  11. Rebecca Sands Says:

    It’s pretty scary that 1 in 5 US kids are diagnosed with ADHD. I wonder if many of the kids/ their parents are trying anything to combat this (such as having a clean diet) or are just resorting straight to drugs?

  12. My Camera, My Friend Says:

    Being happy all the time is unnatural and takes away part of the human experience. Yes, so does being sad all the time. Variations in emotion are part of life. Also, why take happy pills when something natural could help? Pills without side effects are pretty rare. People who feel sad a lot should try music, nature, exercise, changing their diet, having a pet, taking up a hobby, or even a major life change before pills.

  13. Anne Says:

    I enjoyed reading this and agree that choice in this is a good thing. Unfortunately, there is a lot of pressure to conform to a standard of classroom behavior that inhibits movement. You might be interested to check out the TED talk “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity” in which he mentions the choreographer of the musical Cats. She was a fidgety child, but her mother was told “There is nothing wrong with her. She’s a dancer.”

  14. h4rr7h00d Says:

    Revising the definition of ADHD to include an even greater proportion of the population is no surprise. Take a look at the evolution of the DSM. The book gets thicker and thicker with each revision to include more questionable mental illnesses. The APA has even pushed for legislation to screen infants for mental illness so that their meds can be pushed on even this fragile segment of society. Hmmm.

  15. pezcita Says:

    I have to ask, would free and easy access to antidepressants, etc. really improve equality? What about those of us who are allergic to them? I was on antidepressants for 3 days almost six years ago. Day one was wonderful. I was finally able to concentrate without feeling threatened, distracted, or angry. By day 3, I was still able to concentrate, but physically felt like I had the stomach flu. These meds have a long way to go yet before they are safe for OTC use.

  16. mountainpat Says:

    I see the take a pill to solve a problem with kids trend as a symptom of parents who have too much to do and not enough time to be parents. Also, it feels a lot like all the tonsil operations of 50 years ago. Who has their tonsils removed these days? To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. And the hammer the doctors have these days are pills. Not good. My heart goes out to kids who aren’t learning to cope with life. Adulthood is going to be hell.

  17. jaklumen Says:

    I think this only scratches the surface… yes, AD(H)D has gotten a lot of press over the past thirty years or so, but it’s just one diagnosis– there is OCD, ODD, bipolar, the autism spectrum, and so on– many of which was part of my own laundry list (but only one, bipolar, truly stuck).

    DSM-5 is a mess, and I feel I could write dissertations JUST on my own frustrations. (I got to know DSM-III-R and DSM-IV fairly well for my own purposes.) I can’t reference it properly here, but someone from the DSM-IV board spoke out very specifically against 5; not specifically against his colleagues and their recommendations, but the possibility that DSM-5 could be abused, and he listed some entries to flat out ignore.

    The implications and connections to society are also a very tangled web. My grandparents generation generally looked at medicines as wonderous and miraculous. My parents generation looked at drugs outside pharma as a means to expand consciousness. My generation was told to Just Say No, although some of us dabbled with the legal and illegal drugs alike regardless of professional advice. I think we have a very confused and muddled idea about drugs, period, considering all the above.

  18. barbaramudge Says:

    Some of us tried very hard not to medicate our child. I spent years trying to help her. Thousands in cognitive therapy. There are in fact kids/adults that need medication and I’m tired of being talked down to about it! We did far more than a quick chat with our doc. We had brain mapping, countless tests, and hours and hours of therapy. Medication should be the last option but I’ll be damn if I’m going to let my child suffer for years while she learns to figure it out herself. I have ADHD as well and I did develop my own coping skills, however, over the last few years I have struggled to the point of severe depression. My ADHD meds have made it possible for me to function. Not all medicated people are just looking for any easy way out. Some of us really do need it.

    Thank you Optomist for a more reasonable blog post than most on this subject.

  19. bernasvibe Says:

    I’ve also written on this topic@ A pill-popping society….Its become more the NORM to medicate; than it is to DEAL with the ups & downs of LIFE. Its rather sad that anyone would suggest that , mayhaps, folks just need to take a “happy” pill. What is left out of your post though is the realistic viewpoint that sometimes going “through” bad things …& surviving!..is good for personal growth. Certainly a “happy” pill would skip over those oh-so-normal parts of LIFE. What is also left out of this post is the very real possibilities and more than likely probability…that getting kids hooked ON drugs at earlier ages..is setting them up to become addicts later on in life. Pharmaceutical companies have become filthy rich! because folks want an “easy” way to parent. Parenting isn’t easy nor was it meant to be..and having raised 3 sons? I can attest to the fact that NONE of them were forced(because kids don’t ask to be put on drugs; thats a parent’s doing!) onto drugs, they’re all 3 normal intelligent productive adults, and NONE of them are now drug addicts nor on any drugs. Nor are their parents…I think it is wise to be mindful of what we’re teaching & showing our children. A quick happy pill won’t solve anything longterm…matter of fact I think that is why things are so out of control as they are. I personally think ADD and ADHD is a catch-all phrase…Anytime you’ve got to wean someone off of something(which is the correct process with coming off the drugs for ADD/ADHD; can’t be good for the body. NO chemicals are good for the body. Pharm companies and parents who cater to these drugs are just as bad a drug dealers on the street. Far too many alternatives than drugs to living a happy, fulfilled life..DRUGS is the easy way out & a quick fix that really isn’t fixing anything

  20. lumatiza Says:

    I agree that psychiatric drugs should be considered when a person is suffering but there is also a deeper side to life that needs to be discovered and explored. Sometimes a good struggle with our emotions and environment helps us find meaning in places where we didn’t know it existed. I strongly disagree with Mark Alan Walker’s concept of weath as a means to happiness and the bottom-line of wellbeing. For those of us that live in the developing world and witness poverty every day, wellbeing has more to do with basic needs such as food and shelter. Certainly happiness is part of wellbeing but certaintly not the most important. Let us not lose sight of what is important.
    Nice job on this article. It stimulated discussion which is what we need direly!

  21. percychatteybooks Says:

    I knew plenty of kids who were Hyper’ when I grew up… we didn’t have happy pills then, we cured it by running round the parks all day, school gym classes, playing soccer or baseball after school or “cowboy ‘n’ injuns” round the house. Mum had bags of patience and was actually at home to supervise.

    There days of course it’s 24/7 locked to a computer/Internet, eating super carbs with the TV on in bedroom (voluntary prison) Ahhhhhh!!! and mom n dad are doing the same in the living room.

    .. a great and fascinating article but I couldn’t help thinking ;lifestyle’ – just a non-medical observation from me!

  22. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thanks for all the comments. Let me respond briefly. Jessica talks about what happens when people gain relatively unlimited access to things like food and information. True, there are ALWAYS trade-offs (as I keep emphasizing); but frankly in a world too often characterized by hunger and ignorance, I don’t think too much food and information is more of a problem than a blessing.
    Segmation considers it sad that we use meds to fix things and ask if there isn’t a better way. Several other commenters echoed this instinctive prejudice that medication is somehow a violation of nature and hence to be shunned. I’m sorry, I do NOT consider it “sad” that we use medications to fix health problems that in past times would have meant agonizing death! And this applies to psychological problems too. As I’ve noted, someone near-and-dear to me spent years in talk therapy which didn’t help much; finally a medication did the trick and changed her life totally for the better. “Sad”? I don’t think so. “Miracle” is more like the word that comes to mind.
    To jtjohnson, yes, certainly, there is a lot wrong with education in America, and if you look at my past blog posts I have addressed this often (e.g., “The Marshmallow Test”). The mindset of “don’t fix anything unless we can fix everything” doesn’t help. Medication of students with classroom maladjustments can help them do better, and ultimately to live more rewarding lives. Yes, this tool must be used with prudence and caution and due regard to downsides but it is a tool we can utilize.
    To MyCamera, why take pills when something natural can help, like music and exercise? One, not everybody has the self discipline to be able to utilize such tools successfully. And two, from an objective scientific standpoint, if the mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain released through, say, exercise, are equally released by an ingested chemical, there is literally no difference. It is not some inauthentic kind of happiness, that’s an irrational prejudice we should overcome.
    To Pezcita, I am truly sorry you had a bad experience with anti-depressants. Please take seriously what I want to say to you: there are a lot of different anti-depressants that all have different ways of affecting different people, and it’s usually necessary to use trial-and-error to find the one that works right for an individual. I have mentioned above a specific person’s experience. That person too went through years trying different medications with varying effects. But when the right one was finally tried, the results were dramatically positive, and she is “living happily ever after.”
    To Mountainpat, I had my tonsils out 60+ years ago. Once again, it would be great if everyone had the best and wisest parents to acculturate them to live good lives. The real world falls unfortunately short of this ideal. That’s why we must use “second best” answers.
    To Bernasvibe: “NO chemicals are good for the body.” Really?? You should go back to school and learn a little science!! But perhaps you failed to learn because you didn’t take the right meds to help you. 😉 (But seriously, everything in the world is a chemical; everything we put in our mouths are chemicals; our bodies are chemical factories.)
    I think Barbaramudge is testimony to what I am talking about. At the end of the day, helping people live better and more rewarding lives is what it’s all about. If you can do that without any meds, more power to you, hurrah! But please don’t look down your nose at those poor benighted imperfect people for whom meds can make life better.

  23. armenia4ever Says:

    I found this post and some of the comments to be particularly fascinating.

    – There seems to be some people who should avoid taking ADHD medication. Others however may actually need it. One of the problems I’ve run into while trying to get a better grasp on the issue is the financial incentive that exists for various parties involved.

    – Something that comes to mind is drugs like Ritalin being the first suggested solution to deal with the inability of younger kids to focus. Do some kids actually “really” have ADHD, or do they just need to run around, eat healthy, ect?

    – Our modern day educational school system seems to inherently geared toward a classroom methodology and environment that works much better for younger girls than younger boys. (An assumption, but I think a somewhat valid one.) Could this be one of the greater factors/variables leading up to the symptoms of ADHD that seem so rampant concerning younger boys?

  24. antievil30 Says:

    Reblogged this on Anti Evil.

  25. Miss Bliss Says:

    Reblogged this on Blissful Thinking.

  26. Miss Bliss Says:

    I could not agree with you more. We have many different psychological medications that can help individuals in all circumstances. I, however, can not get over how incredibly simple it is for one to obtain any of these drugs. I feel there is much need for faciliies to have a more than a long test to decide if a n individual is eligible for medication. Something that was origionally a miracle for people with a lerning disability, has turned into the “studying remedy of all time” for college students.

  27. helena mallett Says:

    Thought-provoking …

  28. Susan Sassi Says:

    I just wanted to chime in. I’m someone who does a great deal of meditating and positive affirmations to help with my depression. But it is not enough. I have had days where I couldn’t stop crying no matter what I made myself think. I have had times when I repeated my positive mantras over and over again and it just made me cry more. I can’t explain it. It isn’t logical. It is just the way it is.I know there are some doctors that are too quick to medicate. But there are just as many people out there who don’t understand depression and other mental disorders. I owe a great deal of my happiness right now to being on anti-depressants. And if it is too hard to get, for someone who needs it, they aren’t going to have the stamina to go after it, and their life could be in danger.

    Also Anti-depressant medication and ADHD medication doesn’t work overnight. It takes a month or two to get in the system before the patient feels anything. So it isn’t exactly the quick fix that everyone makes it out to be. Also once it is in your system, it is very common for patients to miss dosses. Because you feel better and forget you have a problem. Hence forget to take it. If you don’t have a problem you probably won’t remember to take it. Where as if you do have an imbalance it is quickly noticeable the minute the dose wears off, and you remember to take it. If someone is committed to taking it for that long and doesn’t forget to take it, I would guess the chances are they probably need it or they would forget to take it or not bother.

  29. Ms. B Says:

    I think another, very real issue, is introducing high quantities of chemicals into a brain that’s still developing. There will be long term effects, there is no way around it. These prescriptions, taken now, will effect these young people for life.

  30. smkelly8 Says:

    I agree with the earlier post that people should read Thomas Szaz, M.D. He’s also got some lectures on YouTube. Fascinating ideas.

  31. ridicuryder Says:

    RationalOptimist,

    Is this a slippery slope? You seem to advocate strapping on the right skiis and I’m with you in your whole “so maybe we break a leg here and there” approach.

    There are a couple of cliffs to avoid on our way into the valley though……

    Should we take a few lessons first? Maybe western women could swing through China where around 10 available studs are standing by waiting for someone to impregnate (maybe we could pay down the deficit while we are at it). Large scale cross breeding with Orientals will ensure maximum efficiency when navigating the slope and help genetically engineer us to think uniformly.

    I like how you never have tried these substances yourself…..you are that guy at the top of the mountain strapping folks into hand gliders without ever having left the ground yourself…….”just read this pamphlet – the way forward is clear.” Try cleaning your house on speed sometime……its kinda like vacuuming while listening to the Ventures and a few Midgets are chasing you around with cattle prods. Whatever tasks are set before you get tackled effectively, only be careful of who is setting up your work, they may be fast tracking you into a life where pesky appendages like character and individuality get swept aside in favor of productivity and corporate profits.

    RidicuRyder

  32. life of the hand - life of the mind Says:

    and then there is “better living through” growing and eating good food, exercising, reading, creating, thinking, sharing, loving, south-facing windows, bypassing dunkin donuts, never entering a convience stonre

  33. dunndude Says:

    I have found that my American friends are much more medication happy than those in my own country despite my country offering free healthcare, that has always perplexed me.

  34. thealternateplanet Says:

    Really thought provoking post thank you, it’s not often that the prescription of meds is played in a favourable light by someone who isn’t PAYED to paint them in a favourable light.

    Just as a thought from an English perspective though, I do feel America, though also European countries, particularly France, are over medicated. You used the word ‘better’ and ‘happy’ a lot in your post and I’d just like to address something that I saw played up a lot when I recently stayed in America. The focus is very much on the concept of ‘happiness’ and I don’t think this should necessarily be the case, sometimes it’s good to be unhappy, it shows us what true happiness is and teaches us how to persevere through times of trouble and to come out fighting, getting out of destructive behaviours patterns instead of popping a few pills and ‘getting better’. As a dyslexic I have no doubt my grades would probably increase if you put me on ADHD meds or something that could affect my concentration, but by not being on these meds I have developed my own methods of study making me a more successful and more confident student. I’d suggest the aim of meds should be to achieve balance, allowing someone to address their problems on medication and then easing them off once they feel they can cope, not full on one-sided happiness.

    I’m in no way saying that some people need meds, and everyone is entitled to happiness and has a right to pursue it, I do find it really interesting though how different opinions are in America towards drugs, where mental health medications and so forth, are waaaay more freely advertised (we don’t get those ads on the tv) compared to other views. I actually wrote a blog about it if you ever cared to visit which is why I found this, almost opposite view, so interesting.

    Anyway, thank you for the post.

  35. Victoria Sawyer Says:

    As someone who was on meds for 8 years straight for panic attack disorder and anxiety and am now off, I feel that drugs are not always the answer. Yes, they did help me through a rough patch in my life but they also changed me and not for the better. Creativity was always part of my life, but the drugs took away the ups and downs in my personality and I no longer was interested in any kind of creation. I wasn’t myself anymore. I now make the conscious choice to not be medicated because being “me” makes me happiest. I would never make an across the board statement that no one should take meds, however I think there are natural methods that can work for most people. Simply getting regular exercise or changing your diet can make a huge difference and I also think that being authentically yourself and human is important! I know it is to me. And yes, life is more difficult without the meds, but that’s my choice.

    The other aspect to this is all the chemicals we pump into our bodies over the years. These drugs are all new, there is no way to know how they will effect us in the long run or how they will effect our children who come from our bodies. I believe I now have Endometriosis, and who knows what caused this! Chemicals in our environment? Medications that are “supposedly” safe? Beauty products or other products that are filled with chemicals? I think we may just see more and more women who cannot have children or children with emotional and physical problems and I think our desire to be “happy” all the time with pills or other instant gratification products will change us in ways we cannot understand at this time. The easy way out is not always the right answer in the long term. Chemists and doctors who say this stuff is “fine” don’t really know what they’re talking about.

    I also think our society is too fast paced, we’ve caused too much stress and everyone now has a diagnosis. If only we could slow down, take time to enjoy life and stop feeling trapped within expectations that move faster all the time. I know I feel this way a lot and it causes me a lot of anxiety and stress. Humanity as a collective is honestly kind of impulsive, we plow ahead with every thing we think is a great idea and we don’t take the time to sit and think, should I really do this? For thousands of years people lived without medication, so maybe the problem is not within ourselves, maybe it’s in our society and it’s expectations. Just food for thought.

  36. Cheryl Petersen Says:

    Modern day conundrum, interesting comments. I am not an advocate of chemical medications however temporal relief should not be disregarded. The key is not stopping at or arguing about the temporal, but persevering toward a more permanent answer. It’s good to see many people are looking at the bigger picture. I believe happiness and individuality do not come from meds or money or conformity, but thinking for and discovering ourselves.

  37. rationaloptimist Says:

    Re Victoria’s comment — yes, it’s complicated. We so often hear this trope, “we’re killing ourselves with all the chemicals in our environment,” etc. The simple answer is that average human lifespans have nevertheless been relentlessly rising. Did you know that just a century ago, worldwide average lifespans were only about 31? Today in advanced nations it’s pushing 80, and still rising. And people in advanced ages are in better health, enjoying life, not decrepit. So while yes, there are downsides to chemicals, the upsides are greater. One example: flame retardant chemicals. Yes, toxic, and ideally we would not want them in our environment. But on the other hand, burning to death is worse.

  38. kzahm Says:

    My stepsons mother has profusely refused to allow him medication despite his clear diagnosis of ADHD. She believes making him read the same passage over and over until he cries. My husband has full custody now so he put him on medication which has only five minor side effects, and his grades have gone from failing to As and Bs.
    I have moderate to severe Crohn’s disease which requires me to take certain medications from time to time, alongside with regulatory meds. I simply do not agree with those so opposed to medications. As you said, why not take pills that prevent alcohol abuse, for example? Why should I stay home in bed all weekend and suffer instead of popping a loritab and spending time with my family? my cousin needs xanex because stress causes severe abdominal issues. Why choose to suffer if the cost is low and side effects are minor? However, to go along with the notion that we should all take happy pills to evenly distribute happiness, it does raise the question, why are we so unhappy?

  39. lexy3587 Says:

    This is a very interesting post, and kind of hits close to home. My sister recently started therapy after having had a really rough first year at university, full of panic attacks that she didn’t realise weren’t a normal state of being, and general inability to cope with stress. She made a point to me that she absolutely wouldn’t want to take any kind of drug to help her with this situation, which definitely stems from the overall societal view of ‘only crazy people take medication for mental state’. As far as I’m concerned, if she could take a pill every day that helps balance the chemicals in her brain so that she can learn how to cope with stress, learn to deal with her own emotions, and avoid feeling as terrible as she has been, then she should absolutely go for it. I’m hoping my argument improves the chances that she’ll consider medication if her therapist suggests it, rather than just saying no to something that could genuinely have a positive effect on her.
    However, I have a bit of an issue with the ADHD medication. It doesnt’ seem to me that it’s for the child’s benefit – it seems more like it’s for the parents and teachers. I know that’s not the only case, but when you’re increasing the number of kids you’re deciding must need it, then I wonder if you’re just not a fan of how kids just are, naturally. I think the better change to make, rather than giving more kids ADHD medication, is to change the way the school system works, to accomodate how most kids are. For example, a school near me recently installed stationary bikes in the back of all the classrooms. the kids start the morning with a short exercise session, on or off-bike, and any kids feeling ‘antsy’ cango to the back of the room and bike for a bit. The kids are finding they’re able to focus better, and the teachers are finding that the kids who were ‘trouble makers’, in terms of being very disruptive in class and unable to concentrate are much more able to focus and stay with the group. I think a lot of the cases of ‘adhd’ could be easily solved by getting more time to run around and expend energy, and just generally be kids.

  40. lionaroundwriting Says:

    MESSED UP.

    Only in America could this happen. The pharma companies are revelling in all this and are hand in hand with psychiatry, some psychology and the FDA.

    I think the rapid ‘diagnoses’ if can call them that are down to some things that people don’t want to talk about: Actually being a parent, present and interacting in a kids life.

    I’m not saying some children don’t have severe attentional problems, that’s blatantly the case. But the swathes of kids being put on pills is insane.

    Really fucked up how a lot of parents are complicit in making money off their own children for the drug companies.

  41. yosephvera Says:

    nice writing. thamk you

  42. TH3_LEECH Says:

    We are a Prozac nation. Drugs are portrayed as the answer to all psychological illnesses.

  43. wesley swift Says:

    I dont care what kind o Drug that it is they’ll all lead to addiction if abused, Like pain killers, xeanx,or adderall. a pill will lead to another. Thank god i beat them!

  44. afireworkinprogress Says:

    I was prescribed adderall at age 24 for ADD. No real testing, just a couple of questions by a psychiatrist and a diagnosis and prescription. I took it for a month until I realized I really had no need for it. It could happen to anyone…I have no doubt people do genuinely need it but I wonder how many people just take it because they’re told to because a doctor wants to fill a quota. On the other hand, I did take SSRIs for years when I genuinely needed them, but eventually went off when it was the right time. Hard to say when that is. I’m very thankful these drugs are available to those who need them, but wish there was a better way to determine that need.

  45. GamerDame Says:

    I may be a bit biased as a counselor-in-training, but I do think a lot of people are overmedicated. Especially where ADHD is concerned (which I think is more a combination of problems in parenting & the school system). Don’t get me wrong, I think medication can be great… for the short-term. But I don’t think it should be a permanent solution. Who wants to take drugs everyday just to get by? That sounds like a pretty miserable existence if you ask me. Drugs cost a lot of money. What if you suddenly can’t afford to pay anymore? How do you deal with things when your answer was always the medication? Suddenly you find yourself unable to cope.

    To me, having to take medication all the time to deal with life is no different from someone who drinks to forget their problems. Yet we call them an alcoholic & say they need help. It’s just hiding the real problem. Depression, ADHD & many other diagnoses are just symptoms of a greater problem that needs to be understood & dealt with rather than swept under the rug. Should a woman be given a “happy pill” because she’s depressed because she’s in an unhealthy relationship & basically told to “deal with it?” I think most of us would say no.

    I don’t hate medication. I’m glad science has come so far & I do believe medication can be a great help. Not every diagnosis has another effective solution, such as people with Schizophrenia (you can’t therapy someone into believing they’re not hearing voices). But meds should only be one part of a greater plan to help people. It should make life tolerable enough to seek out lasting, un-drugged change.

  46. Louella Says:

    Having suffered from a Severe Health Anxiety condition, I will speak from my personal experiences.

    The first anxiety attack I had was during the 4 month hospital stay I had after an MVA in 95. These went un-diagnosed during my stay in the hospital. These anxiety attacks were exacerbated further by several decisions made by my physicians, including one which saw me start the rehabilitation process with a 4cm displaced Illiac Crest Pelvic Fracture.

    Undiagnosed, on my return home, my anxiety attacks continued with me attending emergency 3 – 4 times per week thinking I was dying.

    STILL undiagnosed, I read ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ by ‘Susan Jeffers’. Implementing the principles outlined in the book, I was able to self treat.

    5 years later, I fainted at work after Hyperventilating. The ambulance attended. After a check, they established I was fine. 2 weeks after that, I fainted again. The same ambulance crew attended. The paramedic suggested with my MVA history, I could be suffering from anxiety. She suggested I attend the doctor and get a referral to see a ‘clinical psychologist’. She had obviously had personal experience with anxiety attacks and emphasised the importance of ‘Clinical’.

    I was unable to get in to see my own doctor for a month and with the increase in anxiety attacks I booked an appointment with another doctor.

    I spent 5 minutes with the doctor, and he wrote me a script. I asked him what it was for. He explained it was to treat the anxiety and was not addictive.

    I questioned the need for the medication when I had yet to try and treat the condition by other means. I asked for a referral to a see a clinical psychologist. He refused and said I should try the medication first.

    I refused, and told him I thought it was irresponsible of him to provide medication to me which had potential side effects, when their were other less invasive options available. I expressed that the medication was not dealing with the underlying condition itself.

    He continued to refuse provision of the referral.

    I left, without the script, then later obtained the referral from my own doctor.

    Six months of Re-cognitive Behaviour Therapy saw me free of the attacks and provided strategies to deal with any future incidences.

    The Medication the doctor tried to provide me with was NOT required. Even when questioned, he refused to provide me with the referral I obviously needed.

    Some of us may be looking for a Quick Fix. I was not. Doctors are entrusted to provide the best level of care for their patients. Six months of CBT is alot better than medication which if nothing else becomes mentally addictive, masks the underlying problem and usually comes with unwanted side effects.

    Prescription medication for ‘behavioural’ conditions and disorders should be the last resort in my opinion.

    Unnecessary and over prescription of medication is creating an entirely different kind of epidemic we should be concerned about.

  47. casperbrax Says:

    Brilliant, excellent post. Thank you.

  48. norfolked Says:

    Reblogged this on The Purpose of Life is a Life of Purpose.

  49. 25waystodealwithpanic Says:

    Mastering panic/anxiety naturally in a pill culture leads to individuals that refuse to or cannot take medication on their own. They are ostracized because they wont give in. A setback is their own fault because after all “If you would just take the medicine this would be all over, you would be better!”
    On the flip side, it makes a great book!

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  51. Lainie Naugle Says:

    I’ve been very concerned with this issue, although I was under the impression that it was girls that were more often misdiagnosed because society expected them to be more docile. “Boys will be boys” but when a girl is hyperactive, it’s considered more of a behavioral issue. Either way, I don’t believe in using medication for this. Many people I know personally that have been on ritalin have reported that it made them feel sluggish and “zombie-like”. I feel that people should explore other options if they feel that their child’s hyper behavior or inability to focus is actually an issue. One thing that has been proven to help children with ADHD and ADD has been hypnotherapy. Its a much more natural route to take than resorting to a pill.

  52. shesavestheworld Says:

    I find your argument intriguing. When I was in college I would get so angry when I discovered some of the top marking students were taking Adderol to improve exam scores. The argument always came back at me: “it’s a choice- if you want it, it’s accessible”. Instead, I grudgingly drank my coffee, which you already pointed out is a mood altering substance. Looking back, I think my biggest issue was the pressure to do well, resulting in the drug use. Failure in school was a failure in life.

    Stepping back to the issue of stigmatization and children, I completely agree- my sister was diagnosed with ADHD and was referred to as a “SPED” child in middle school and high school. Her already low self esteem was further dampened. My sister is very bright- she just learns differently. Quite unfortunately, she didn’t see her diagnosis as I did. Unlike college, the ritalin in middle school didn’t make her cool, it just made her more of an outcast.

    Jumping forward to the issue of wealth, well, it’s a given. If you have money you have access to anything. The product of a blue collar family, I have been amazed by the power of cash. Those who had the most money always had the most drugs.

    Thanks for the post!

  53. tiredella Says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about ADHD, mostly along the same lines as what you’ve said here….

  54. BenRL Says:

    This is so misguided. There is a huge wealth of information (and I’m talking legitimate, peer-reviewed published and respected science) pointing at the inefficacy of psychiatric medication. Antidepressants have no clear mechanism of action, and most of their effect has been shown fairly conclusively to be a placebo effect. While there’s nothing wrong with that in principle, it comes with the burden of a wealth of undesirable sexual side affects, and alongside the well-established knowledge the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy would do the job better and create a higher quality of life than a potentially dangerous, totally ineffective drug possibly can. Why should we depend on a chemical to fix a problem whose very existence is sketchy; the evidence for most psychiatric illness is so anecdotal and unscientific it’s truly remarkable we even pretend to think of it as a science.

  55. frank S. Robinson Says:

    BenRL: Sorry, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. The person whom I’ve mentioned, whose history I am intimately familiar with, did not have some phantom illness “whose very existence is sketchy,” it was all too real with severe effects. She went through years of “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” with a parade of different therapists, without much result, and meanwhile also tried different medications which helped a little but not much. But when she finally (with a doctor’s help) found the right medication, the result was dramatic, and she is now a different person. So this was obviously not a placebo effect. And, by the way, after several years on this medication, there are NO discernible side effects, sexual or otherwise.

  56. feminismtrue Says:

    This is the price that society is paying for eating unhealthy genetically modified foods http://jahtruth.net/genet.htm which have been proven to deplete our immune systems. We are not “drug” dependent; we are Love dependent. http://jahtruth.net/drugs.htm
    This is really sad.

  57. frank S. Robinson Says:

    Sorry, feminismtrue, the case against Genetic Modification is all lies and utter crap promoted by scientific charlatans and anti-scientific ideologues. See my past post: https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/denialism/

  58. eleanora1 Says:

    Everyone looking for a quick fix, that is the problem with us today, just deal with it. Geezzzzz enough already.

  59. JD Maupin Says:

    Reblogged this on Munchkins Mom and commented:
    This one blog seems to say everything that has built and devastated my life as to where I/we are now. The over medication or even diagnosis of individuals is so easy now. Anti-depressants are passed out so normally without question or need for follow up other than to “refill” your next prescription. But I, myself still have so many questions to this post. I am on “every” aspect of this post both pro and con. This entire post I could decipher starting all the way back to my husband growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and his hyper activity and school all the way up to now and then add the possible ADD title to him back then, to our daughter that just passed away from a drug combination to my grand children being prescribed and treated for ADD and ADHD. I can be on both the pro and con side of this issue all under one word, “What if?”

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