What are your thoughts concerning the powerful behavior-modifying drugs being prescribed to millions of American children - but they've not been adequately tested in kids. Do you have a story to share?
I am a veteran elementary school teacher and the parent of a child who is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Auspergers Syndrome. First off, BOTH are mental illnesses...illnesses of the functioning of the brain. We just have done more research into the autistic spectrum and it has better marketing. Also, it is easier to spot a child with autistic spectrum symptoms than one with bipolar.
I agree that diet, alternative teatments and assistance with parenting skills (specifically about parenting an exceptional child) are critical and beneficial to the treatment of my son.
Additionally, however, he requires med treatment to allow him to develop and maintain relationships with peers, which he greatly wants to do. They also allow him to control his moods to a greater degree than he can without them. They help him control suicidal ideations and have decreased his night terrors and certain other anxieties. Basically his life is crippled without them.
I have many times been questioned about the med treatment of my son. I know we have worked diligently to get the best care and treatments available. WE went totally natural at first, using the services of a homeopathic doctor and a naturalpath, dietary changes and therapy. In our case they were not evough, though we continue to use the natrualpath and beleive that she has helped immensely.
The health care system and our society at large is doing a poor job of handling mental illnesses. We closed many facilities here in California in the 80's, leaving mentally ill patients on their own. Mental illnesses are vilified in our society and greatly misunderstood. If my son had asthma and I didn't treat him with the proper medicine I would be considered an unfit parent. Yet there are people who feel we shouldn't treat our child with the medicine available. Bipolar disorder is a potentially deadly disease and those afflicted with it suffer a much greater incident of suicide than the general population.
We found that a PET scan was helpful in supporting the diagnosis, but still our son has not found a balance even with the meds. Bipolar is a moving target and, add to that adolesence, and it's even trickier to treat. I highly recommend avoiding products with high-fructose cornsyrup, and making other changes too. Additionally we make sure that our son takes vitamins and supplements specifically to help him with potential side effects of the meds he's on (such as liver function support).
Good luck to any parent whose child has any of these disorders or syndromes. Make sure you get into a support group so you know you're not alone and the unfit parent many may judge you to be. It reminds me of losing my dad two years ago. Until you lose a parent you simply can't picture the impact it has on your life. People who don't live with a mentally ill child have no idea of the impact on the household.
My last point (though clearly I can go on) is that I agree that doctors are doing a poor job on the whole of taking the time to really get to know a child. These diagnoses are annecdotally based at this point and patience is critical.
Thank you Frontline for this show.
North Hills, CA
I'm D.J.'s grandma and after listening to people bash my daughter and her parenting style, I must speak up. I'm shocked at some of the medical community, especially Dr. Elizabeth Roberts.Dr. Roberts, your comments are the most disturbing to me. You attack my daughters parenting skills, when only one short shot was shown during the show.She has two other beautiful children who respond well to their parents discipline. They listen well, behave and are able to learn from their consequences. D.J. does not have that ability at this time.
You report that D.J. is a perfect example of how poorly the medication solution has worked. I beg to differ with you. D.J. now sleeps at night, he used to go three to four days without sleep at a time. He was a danger to himself and to other family members during these manic phases. He thought he was superman and tried to fly onto the swinging blades of the ceiling fan. He does not have tantrums, he has RAGES, rages that can last for hours. His parents are not permissive at all, at times they are too strict. I certainly hope you don't judge your patients as quickly as you judged my daughter.
What wasn't reported in this story of D. J. was his family's mental health history, LOTS of it. His aunt and uncle both suffer from Bi-polar Disorder, and there are other mental health issues in the family. We have family in both the medical and mental health field. We are educated people.
My daughter has tried and looked at many different options. Dr. Bacon spent many months diagnosing and evaluating D.J. It was made to seem that he did not offer alternative options - he did so many times. His answer is not always medications. He helps problem solve with my daughter on different ways to help D. J. deal with his symptoms. He recently discontinued the Risperdal and they continually reassess his needs of medications.
A part of the diagnosing comes from the DSM IV criteria, a tool to help clinicians and doctors properly diagnose patients. Unfortunately D. J. meets a lot of that criteria.No parent wants their child "labeled" something they are not, especially a mental health illness. All avenues have been explored before coming to the conclussion of Bi-polar. D. J. and his family all suffer horribly when he is not on his medication, D.J. probably more than anyone. He deserves the right to lead as normal a life as possible. The medications help him attain this.
To those of you obsessed with the diet and food thing (Patricia Davis), D.J. was shown eating one corndog and drinking what they thought was a Gatorade. It was not Gatorade, the family had just returned from a soccer tournament (excercise) and the drink was a sugar free drink mix that was passed out after the games. D. J. loves his veggies and fruits. My daughter cooks balanced meals daily. How many kids have a hot dog for lunch and no one thinks anything of it? My grandson's school has corndogs on the menu for lunch. It's not like D.J. has a weight problem or is obese. I'm appalled at labeling the mothers of these kids obese, what does that have to do with D.J.'s diagnosis?Narrow minded people who make uneducated comments without enough knowledge of the situation need to be less judgemental. Walk a day in the life of D.J. and family, then give me your opinion.
I work in the mental health field. Unfortunatley, I and many others have worked hard to de=stigmatize mental illness. I fear these kinds of reports will keep some people from getting the help they so badly need. Suicides among our youth keep rising. Medications do help, they save lives and families.
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Many of the postings in this discussion address the possible role of diet and nutrition in the symptoms of kids like DJ who are receiving bipolar diagnoses. We want to point out that just as there is a lack of research on the effectiveness of medication treatment, there is insufficient evidence at this point to link nutrition - or, for that matter, parenting - to the kinds of volatile mood symptoms that afflict these children. There's a great deal of interest in the idea that changes in diet might offer an alternative to pharmaceuticals and there are studies underway at some of the most prominent academic centers in the country. But as with so many aspects of this field, thoroughly researched answers are still to come. And to focus solely on nutrition, or on parenting, or on heredity, or on any other possible single contributing factor, runs the risk of underestimating the marked complexity of these cases.We also want to point out that all the families who participated were anxious about being judged as parents and were concerned about how they would be portrayed. Viewers should realize that in a one hour film, the details of each child's story were compressed and countless hours of footage were left out.
My wife and I re-watched (in horror) the PBS documentary called "The Medicated Child" - wherein, the over-medication of children was vividly portrayed. I can understand that some well documented kinds of medication can become necessary, when all else fails. But these children were ingesting all kinds of experimental drugs whose long term effects individually were unknown (let alone what they might do in combination with each other). The amazing thing to us was that at no time during the documentary did they even mention that a controlled diet has been proven to be effective in moderating abnormal behavior! I know that wasn't the focus of the documentary, but, as an educational piece of information, I think it should have been stated.
Cross River, New York
After watching The Medicated Child, I was overwhelmed with the sysmatic way doctors prescribe medications without a complete dianogstic test if there is one for small children. What will these children be like as adults if they still require medication? What if they don't take their medication? Do we have a society out of control and violent? Could it be that "some" parents want to push their responsibilty off on medication like they do blame teachers for their children's learning habits or lack of. Do "some" children and parents need counseling or simply the "Nanny"?
I have worked for years as a child/adolescent psychologist specializing in severe childhood behavior disorders and I understand how desperate parents can be to find answers and solutions to help their children.
For those parents struggling with children with volatile moods, tantrums/temper losses, and unpredictable behavior there are scientifically sound treatments (endorsed by National Institutes of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention) that have repeatedly demonstrated substantial changes (>1SD for those statistical nerds in the audience) in childhood conduct problems (including those explosive tantrums lasting hours).
The fact that Dr. Bacon reported that little help could be found in therapy (hopefully he was referring to a "sit and talk" approach) is disturbing and not supported in the literature.
Parents should look for qualified child psychologists who are competent in methods such as:
Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)Helping the Strong Willed Child (HNC)Barkley's Defiant Children Protocol
All of these are short term, goal directed interventions that can SUBSTANTIALLY improve a child's behavior, frustration tolerance, and ability to appropriately self-soothe.
Remember the first rule of medicine: Do no harm. If the drugs have never been independently tested in children then they should not be prescribed. The child has no voice in such a situation, and in some of these cases it almost seems like the parent's emotional neediness/fragility is driving the whole process.
I became discouraged about the future of our society while watching this program. I don't remember any of my friends being out of control enough to require medication when I was growing up in the 50's and 60's. What is different today? The story did not address environmental factors (maybe a future Frontline will look at this?), but my wife and I wondered about several things:
Diet - the families profiled did not appear to be consuming the healthiest of foods. Corn dogs, Gatorade, candy were all shown, but no organic, home-cooked meals.
Activity - despite having moved to the mountains, the teen boy in the show obviously could use more outdoor exercise. What mental hazards are posed by having childrens' free time dominated by electronics - tv, computers, cell phones, games, etc.?
Family - absentee parents, with children being raised by strangers in daycare centers. Mothers with multiple children by different fathers who are no longer involved in their lives. This was not shown specifically in this program, but is prevalent in our society.
This whole epidemic goes much deeper than just pharmaceuticals. Drugs just treat the symptoms of what I suspect could be societal problems. How many of these kids who dream of being pilots, or doctors, or police officers will be denied because of a history of 'mental illness'? What are the long-term effects of these chemicals? Where are we going?
The program entitled "The Medicated Child is absolutely terrifying ! What have the so-called doctors done ? Modern Psychiatry and the drug industry have created a nightmare for parents and their children. I would reccommend every parent read all they can on the side effects of psychotropic drugs... These are not medicines, these are powerful drugs, more dangerous and addictive than street drugs.. I would strongly encourage any parent to read books such as "Toxic Psychiatry" by Dr. Peter Breggin. There are many, many other books resources outlining and warning parents and consumers about psychiatric druggings and their perilous side effects.. Psychiatry continues to hide the TRUTH and pretend that these medicines are the panacea, instead of admitting that these are horrendous drugs the harm children's brains and create all sorts of central nervous system problems.. This is a dangerous time for any child because the Psychiatric community and the drug industry has convinced the populace that the problem is so-called "chemical imbalances... Remember these drug companies are in it, to generate enormous profits, and the doctors backing the false research to gain pacients and make enormous fortunes for themselves... Repeat, they are in it to make lots of money for themselves and do not care about the outcome for the children.. Wise up to their motives and intentions... These drugs are absolutely horrifically damaging to the brain and central nervous system.
Dear Frontline,I think your program is a wake up call to all of us, that there is more we can do to help with our health and also to help our children and not blindly listen to Doctors, they do sometimes make mistakes, and it is such a hard decision to make, when your child is not functioning well, the decision you or the Dr make, can impact on the rest of your child's life or yours for that matter. My teen's life has been turned upside down due to the system, medications, school not being able to deal with the drug induced behavior which was caused. I studied many books, articles online and contacted many who have been on meds and then later funtioned well on alternative treatments.I would like all of you who are interested and especially those in Canada, whether misdiagnosed or not and we can exchange info to help each other. email@example.com
Being a Special Education teacher I should believe in medicating children. I disagree with it however. How can you tell if a 3 or 4 year old child is bipolar and administer medication to them. These are growing children with growing brains. If you are giving them medication now they will always be addicted to something for the rest of their lives. As an educator I believe we along with parents must figure out a way to work through the behavior so the child can get past it. Medication is just an easy way out for the time being with lasting reperccusions. If we keep medicating our children we will live to regret it later. Ask the parents who already do.
Hi, I watch the program twice now. I think it is very informative and lets people know that Doctors do not really know if the medications work, saying it is an experiment, like a gamble - that the medications are not tested on children, so then it should be up to the parents to make an informed decision, whether they want to take that risk using psychiatric medications or to ask what alternatives there are like diet, vitamins, naturopathic or homeopathic treatments.I am convinced my teen was also misdiagnosed as having bipolar and now again is being forced to take psych meds, we were not given the option to chose which treatment. Families should be given the choice, since the long term effects or side effects are not known and you are the ones who have to care for your child, for however long they need care.
I recently watched The Medicated Child for the second time. I find it discouraging that while any medicine can be misused and cause side effects, the focus is on medications for mental health. My son would not be functioning without Risperdal. It was not an easy decision to medicate my son at age 4, just as I would imagine it would not be an easy decision to medicate a young child with chemotherapy drugs or any other medication. It comes down to a quality of life issue. My son is not struggling as much any more. Of course, there will always be issues due to his ADHD, anxiety and possible prenatal alcohol exposure (he was adopted from Russia at 14 months of age) but he is able to participate in school and family activities and actually enjoy them. Before Risperdal he was an aggressive little boy with erratic behavior and a cloudy future. Why would I not want to do the best for my child and allow his true personality to shine through? With Risperdal he is able to laugh more, navigate everyday situations more successfully, and build positive relationships with others. We did not medicate our son because we thought it was the easy way out. I admit that the brain is still a mystery to science but we have to do the best we can with what is available until science catches up. We tried several medications, each one at a time, each time starting with a very small dose, before settling on Risperdal. Fortunately, we have a developmental pediatrician on our team who is cautious and interested in our son. Our son has bloodwork three times a year and follow-up visits frequently. Fortunately, he shows no side effects from the Risperdal, which he has been taking for two years now. No weight gain, no metabolic issues, etc. There are many children on this medication who do well. It is a disservice to always paint a negative picture of this class of drugs. Unfortunately, a child can die from too much insulin, cough medicine, or even Tylenol, fluoride or iron supplementation. Please consider doing a follow-up at some point to highlight more families whose children are doing well due to medication. We would be glad to show you what a wonderful boy our child is growing into every day.
Highland Lakes, NJ
I am a mother to a struggling 6 year old, wonderful boy. I have had so many problems with him in school this year. He cannot focus or concentrate in class and I'm starting to take steps into understanding what is going on with him. I have had all his teachers complete the Copeland assessment form and they came back the same all across the board, as far as his hyperactivity and impulsivity. I am working together with his teacher, school counselor and principal to see what we can do together to help him before we, as parents, go out on our own to seek medical advice. After reading some of these postings I am just horrified at what could happen to my child should we choose to medicate him.
I thank you for airing this program. It helps to solidify my choice to seek all alternatives before choosing medications. If I have to throw everything out of our refridgerator and pantry and buy all organic, whole foods, whatever, I'll do whatever it takes to help my child.
Corpus Christi, TEXAS
I never got to see the program but heard about it from a friend who said, "oh my god this is you". I have an 11 year old son that has severe anxiety, has been diagnosed with ADHD and I kept hearing from his psychiatrist that he was autistic ISH, bi-polar ish. By the time he hit second grade he had tried several medications for the ADHD with no effect. His anxiety worsened and he started to pull his hair - trichotillamania, a golf ball size amount in 1 day awhich percipitated to half a head in a week. At which point I pleaded with the pediatrician and psychiatrist that he needed more help. He was put in a day stay hospital where they tried behavioral management. At no point in time did this child ever receive any blood work or scientific diagnostic tests. We were also told to get him into counceling. I persisted with docotrs and found a wellness center that was not covered by my insurance but did help him. Finally, a trip to the dentist enlightened us. He was missing some adult teeth and the roots of his teeth have enlarged pulp. This is indicative of several genetic disorders. After an attempt to have the genetic test done through the pediatrician, the Dentist herself had to make the request because he told us, the parents, that missing adult teeth was no big deal. Well, my son has a genetic disorder called Klinefelters syndrome. The pediatrician was like, no big deal. However, after researching this disorder we discovered it is a big deal and completely encompasses all th diagnosis, from increased anxiety, speech disorders, language delays, etc. When we speak of health care changes this is a big one! Our first line of defense for health care is medication and not sceince! Sickens me!!! Good luck to the parents out there fighting for their children. I hope to take my story to the right people someday to make a change for others!!
My 13 year old daughter was diagnosed with depression and we spent 2 years going from psychologist to psychiatrist and medication to medication until we discovered homeopathy. With my daughter's first dose of remedy, we ended her anti-depression medication. She is now 19 years old, attending college and hasn't had to take a anti-depressive in 4 years. She has no more symptoms of depression. Don't be afraid to try alternative forms of medicine. It could save your child's life.