Sedated Haze: A Humble Argument to Curb ADHD Stimulant Prescription in the United States

I actually adapted this post from a term paper I wrote for my Sociology of Mental Disorder course at  McGill. Which means all of the information I provide in this is actually super accurate- not just ripped off of any ol’ site in InternetLand.  Yay for accurate information!

Now let’s get into today’s topic: ADHD. First is a brief introduction to how ADHD originated.

ADHD is a scam:

adhd diagnosis 2007 united states map

To me, ADHD is the modern day “hysteria”.

“Hysteria” was, in a nutshell, an exclusively female (curiously enough) “mental disorder” that was  sanctioned by medical professionals and included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) up until 1980. “Hysteria” was a witch hunt cleverly dressed up as a medical problem.

It is an easy way for society to exert control over a certain group of behaviors that we find problematic.

Similarly, labeling certain people with ADHD is nothing more than a clever way of designating a group of behaviors that our society finds to be problematic, and turning it into a medical issue that can then be treated with a medical solution. 

But why would we do something like that?

1) Money. The Pharmaceutical companies convinced us it was a good idea

2) It is a convenient solution to an underfunded educational system.

Exhibit A: The treatment was developed way before the “mental illness” of ADD or ADHD even existed.

In 1937 Dr. Charles Bradley’s  discovered “that amphetamine drugs had a spectacular effect in altering the behavior of school children who exhibited behavior disorders”.

Please note that this is the 1940s, and brain scans and MRIs and all those fancy things don’t exist. There was  no such thing as ADD or ADHD. There was no agreed upon definition of a child inattention mental illness. A “behavior disorder” back then were just kids who were really weird. When you think about it, weirdness is totally normal. There’s weird people everywhere. We’re all weird in our own special, beautiful, snowflakey way.

In the 1940s the stimulant methylphenidate was synthesized and marketed as Ritalin by the 1960s. From that point onward, as the number of children diagnosed with behavior disorders have skyrocketed, and so have CIBA’s [Ritalin’s] gross profits.

After Ritalin was developed, the number of children diagnosed with “ADD/ADHD” each year rose astronomically.

They rose at epidemic rates.

Like, all of the sudden, tons of children magically had ADD.

ritalin

When Ritalin was first being marketed, the market for tired adults was much larger than the market for children with behavior disorders. After “ADD/ADHD” was officially included in the DSMIII, and efforts to “raise awareness” (funded by the Pharmaceutical companies) about the disorder spread, the number of children diagnosed went through the roof.

  • In 1970 about 150,000 children were taking stimulant medication in the US, resulting in $13 million profit from Ritalin alone in 1971.
  • In 1980, the disorder was modified once again, this time in the DSM III. Coinciding with this redefinition of the disorder, numbers of its “sufferers” escalated rapidly. By this time, about  270,000 to 541,000 elementary school children were receiving stimulants.
  • The publication of the DSM-IIIR and DSM-IV once again adjusted the diagnostic criteria, and once again the number of ADHD children rose until by 1987 it was estimated that 750,000 children were taking psychotropic medication.
  • Modern day numbers have now soared, and undoubtedly so has pharmaceutical industry gross profits. By 1995, it is estimated that 2.6 million people currently are taking Ritalin.
  • In 2003, roughly one in 25 children in the United States were being administered psychotropic drugs, amounting to a $2.4 billion market annually.

This brings me to issue #3:

While ADHD’s definition and symptoms have changed greatly over a mere 30 years, the pharmaceutical solution has remained exactly the same.

Suspicious, methinks. Definitely some imaginary beard-stroking going on over here.

This brings me to the social component of this blog post.

Because this widespread drugging of American children cannot be credited solely to the pharmaceutical industry.

It’s a HUGE SOCIAL PROBLEM.

Let me repeat: Putting one in 25 children in the United States on stimulant drugs is a HUGE. SOCIAL. PROBLEM.

adhdcartoon1

We diagnose children as young as 4 years old these brain-altering, psychotropic, stimulant drugs. THEIR BRAINS ARE STILL DEVELOPING WHAT ARE YOU DOING.

The root of this social problem, in my opinion, is our modern day education system.

Due to changing standards of expected conduct in children in Western societies, it has become increasingly convenient to medicalize problematic behaviors and treat the individual, rather than make hugely expensive adjustments in our educational system.

We aren’t letting kids act like kids anymore. We are labeling completely normal child behavior as deviant.

And We Took Away Their Recess.

Has anyone noticed that the sharp increase in ADHD “diagnoses” coincides almost perfectly with a decrease in recess time at school? The decline in unstructured play time began 30 years ago, around the same time as the explosion in ADHD diagnoses and Ritalin drug sales. 

In the United States today, the proportion of schools that don’t have recess ranges from 7% for first and second grades to 13 % by sixth grade. This is due to academic pressure.  Under federal law, starting in third grade, schools must test and show progress in learning.  As a result, up to 40% of U.S. school districts have reduced or eliminated recess in order to free up more time for core academics, and one in four elementary schools no longer provides recess to all grades.

And we’re all so surprised that children are being hyperactive and don’t pay attention. Little kids are not supposed to sit in a chair for an entire school dayThat is not how children work. Have you ever met a child?

This is what happens when you take away recess.

This is what happens when you take away recess.

In 2009 a “groundbreaking” study of 11,000 third-graders was held, comparing those who had little or no daily recess with those that had more than 15 minutes of recess per day. Children who have more recess time behave better in the classroom and are likelier to learn more. Captain Obvious, to the rescue!

However, due to overcrowding, underfunding, and academic pressure at school, recess continues to be substituted with pills.

While I do not doubt that there are some children with very serious learning and development disorders, most children who are extremely hyper are not mentally ill. Teachers are usually the first to ‘identify’ ADHD in a child. In a survey of teacher’s ratings of their students based on the DSM’s ADHD diagnostic checklist,

“23% of elementary school boys and 20% of secondary school boys were diagnosed as having ADHD…nearly one fourth of all elementary school boys and one fifth of all secondary school boys has the mental disorder ADHD” (Psychology Today).

The size and scale of ADHD’s prevalence among children begs the question, what is abnormal? If certain behaviors are so common and prevalent among such a large number of children, then aren’t those behaviors in actuality normal by definition?

The ADHD diagnostic checklist in the DSM IV seems like a joke:

  1. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  2. Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
  3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  4. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties
  5. Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  6. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  7. Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
  8. Is often easily distracted
  9. Is often forgetful in daily activities.
  10. Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
  11. Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
  12. Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
  13. Often talks excessively.
  14. Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
  15. Often has trouble waiting his/her turn.
  16. Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

hypercat

You need six or more of these symptoms to be ADHD.

…I haz all of dem.

These are not abnormal behaviors for children, on the contrary, they seem quite normal for the energetic, curious child.

Furthermore, the lack of long-term studies on amphetamine use in children puts us in the same place as our witch-burning, lobotomizing ancestors, who rushed to treat a problem before it was fully understood. Did anyone stop to think of what potentally huge consequences there are to telling a young, impressionable child that he/she has a “mental disorder”, is “different”, receives drugs every single day of their childhood?

Here’s a quick anecdote:

When I was about ten years old, I saw my mom using one of those body-hair bleaching kits, the at-home kind that lets you lighten unsightly body hair. I had no idea what it was, obviously, so I asked and my mom explained it was for lightening dark hair to be prettier. Then she offered to use some of it on my arm hair. I have thick, long , dark arm hair (i’m not a gorilla or anything, that’s just how it is). Before this moment in my life, I had no idea that my arm hair was unattractive. It was not a problem to me until someone told me it was something that needed to be “fixed”. After this incident, my arm hair became a huge  insecurity for me, and for years I would do all sorts of crazy stuff like shaving my arms, only wearing long sleeves, bleaching, waxing, and even plucking my hairs out, one by one.

And this is just arm hair. The least serious problem in the world.

Now imagine telling a ten-year old child that he or she has a mental disorder called ADHD, and needed to be “fixed” with medication. You are telling these kids that there is something wrong with who they are. You are telling these young, impressionable kids that there is a problem with their brains, their very personalities.

Telling a kid s/he has a mental disorder is devastating.

This will alter the child’s view of him or her self for probably the rest of his or her life. This kid will now walk around thinking there is something wrong with him or her self. They are told that they are different from the other kids, and will never learn as well or achieve as much. And guess what? If you tell a kid stuff like this, he or she is going to believe it, and in most cases, it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Albert Einstein was a disruptive kid in school. He was inattentive, hyperactive, and jumped from subject to subject. This was because Albert Einstein was too goddamn smart for the pace of school. He learned faster, he was curious about everything, and school went too slowly for him.

17029_qutote_albert_einstein_quote1

If Albert Einstein was a child in our school systems today, he would be labeled with ADHD, put on Ritalin, dumbed down to a pace that is more convenient for teachers and parents, and had his brilliance snuffed out.  Consider Nancy Wolff’s words, “The burden of the illness represents what society might gain if the illness symptoms were eradicated”.  Imagine the possibility of instead of 2.6 million mentally disordered children, we could have 2.6 million bright, especially creative kids.

To end on a happy note, here is a list of 10 Most Successful People with ADHD:

  • Walt Disney, creator of magic
  • Michael Phelps, most decorated Olympian of all time
  • Justin Timberlake, ’nuff said
  • Michael Jordan, the man, the legend
  • Jim Carrey, funniest person ever
  • David Neeleman, JetBlue aviation boss
  • Will Smith, the freshest prince ever
  • John F. Kennedy, 35th US President
  • Richard Branson, official business tycoon
  • Albert Einstein, name is synonymous with “genius”

Stop the widespread over prescription of ADHD medications. Take your kid to the park instead of playing stupid iPad apps on the couch.

Works Cited

Anwar, Yasmine. “Use of ADHD medication soars worldwide.” UC Berkeley News. (2007): n. page. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2007/03/06_adhd.shtml&gt;.

Associated Press. “Rescue recess, parents and teachers plead.” msnbc.com 16 May 2006, n. pag. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12822280/ns/us_news-education/t/rescue-recess-parents-teachers-plead/

Diller, Lawrence. Running on Ritalin: A Physician Reflects on Children, Society, and Performance in a Pill. n. pag. 1-4. Bantum Books, 1999. Print.

Grey, Peter. “ADHD and School: The Problem of Assessing Normalcy in an Abnormal Environment.”Psychology Today. (2010): 1-2. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201007/adhd-and-school-the-problem-assessing-normalcy-in-abnormal-environment&gt;.

McLeod, Jane and Eric R. Wright. 2010. The Sociology of Mental Illness: A Comprehensive Reader. The Discovery of Hyperkenesis. Pages 37-40.New York, N.Y. Oxford University press.

Slife, Brent. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Psychological Issues. 14. McGraw Hill, 2007. Print.

Sommer, Mark. “Decline in School Recess Continues.”Buffalo News 27 Jun 2008, n. pag. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.childrenandnature.org/news/detail/decline_in_school_recess_continues&gt;.

“The State of Play: Gallup Survey of Principals on School Recess.” Fenton Communications (2010): 1-14.Gallup Surveys. Web. 29 Nov 2011. <http://www.rwjf.org/files/research/stateofplayrecessreportgallup.pdf&gt;.

Wolff, Nancy. The social construction of the cost of mental illness. 3. The Policy Press, 2007. Print.

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4 thoughts on “Sedated Haze: A Humble Argument to Curb ADHD Stimulant Prescription in the United States

  1. Amazing post! I really agree they are teaching to the lowest common denominator in primary school which sets a precedent for the rest of a child’s school career. Instead of wanting to move on, a brighter child is told just to relax and wait for others. Why not encourage growth? I’m reposting this.

  2. I’m a teacher and I completely agree with you. We just cut recess for our sixth/seventh/eighth grade and I am AFRAID for the repercussions in my sixth grade class. *sigh*

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