Drugging toddlers for mental health

Most antidepressant and antipsychotic medications have not been approved by the FDA for children under the age of 8, and all carry the FDA black box warning that these drugs can cause suicidal thoughts and behavior in children and young adults.

by Dr. Stephanie Reese — 

“The bipolar child is a purely American phenomenon,” says Philip Dawdy, creator of the popular mental health Web site, www.furiousseasons.com. He is not alone in this belief. Most of the rest of the world views the incidence of bipolar diagnoses in children as something that mostly happens only in America.

At last year’s annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Peter Parry, a psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Flinders University in Australia, presented a survey on how child and adolescent psychiatrists from Australia and New Zealand view the prevalence of pediatric bipolar disorder in America. Of the 199 psychiatrists who responded to the survey, nine out of 10 thought pediatric bipolar disorder was over-diagnosed in the United States.

According to the healthcare market research specialist company, IMS Health, antipsychotics are the best-selling class of drugs in America, even outselling statins. Antidepressants are the fourth best-selling drugs. Most antidepressant and antipsychotic medications have not been approved by the FDA for children under the age of 8, and all carry the FDA black box warning that these drugs can cause suicidal thoughts and behavior in children and young adults.

Even so, the use of powerful antipsychotics with privately insured American children, ages 2 through 5, doubled between 1999 and 2007. “In the USA,” Dr. Parry says, “the public is exposed to direct pharmaceutical advertising that can feed the natural desire parents of distressed and aggressive children have for a quick solution by suggesting a simple medication fix.”

Small children are still learning to control the emotional part of their brains. Consequently, issues with reasoning, emotions and problem-solving at this young age can be normal. The frontal lobes that are so crucial in reasoning, planning, movement, emotions and problem-solving are not mature until 15 to 21 years of age.

Scientifically proven alternatives are available that are effective, noninvasive and have no side effects. What they lack is the revenue stream to pay for prime-time commercial advertising.

Programs that prompt the brain to build new neural pathways and exercise brain cells to restore normal functioning have been developed. Children and adults with ADHD and depression almost always have low-functioning frontal lobes. When that function is exercised and oxygenated, normal life is possible again. The mind can repair itself — not with mind-altering drugs, but with oxygen and exercise. It is a more progressive approach and has a much better long-term outcome.

A new study reported in Biological Psychiatry found that specific brain stimulation will change behavior for the better. Researchers created a videogame for a group of ADHD kids. As the kids played, researchers were able to alter the game to give incentives for less impulsive behavior. The reward system worked to create less inappropriate behavior. This study joins many others in demonstrating that working with the brain, rather than drugging it, is the safer and more effective long-term solution.

 

Stephanie Reese, Ph.D., can be reached at The Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine in Scottsdale, Ariz., the only medical clinic in the United States that offers BrainAdvantage, a breakthrough in simplicity and effectiveness for brain training. www.ArizonaAdvancedMedicine.com or 480-240-2600.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 3, June/July 2010.

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