The statistics are staggering and concerning. That is, the diagnosis of mental illness in our children. There has been a sevenfold increase in doctor visits for antipsychotic medications in children younger than age 13 between 1993 and 2009. The bible of psychiatric illness, also known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is being updated by researchers and psychiatrists to decide which diagnoses should stay and what “new” diagnoses are developed for new symptoms. What they have come up with is a new children’s disease called “Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder.” These are children who are constantly irritable and can be explosive. Bipolar illness, on the other hand is defined as periods of depression and “manic” episodes, which are extreme swings of happiness and irritation.
The more labels we put on kids and their behaviors, the more the potential for overmedication with psychiatric drugs and their list of lengthy side effects which can even lead to other diseases, for example, weight gain and the risk of diabetes. Every new diagnosis comes with another cost- billions of health care dollars. Psychiatric drugs are among the most prescribed medicines in the U.S. Approximately $40 billion was spent last year on antipsychotics, antidepressants, and medication for ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
We have to remember that this DSM book and all the mental illness labels are viewpoints of experts in their field that must agree to limit their involvement with drug companies to $10,000 over the duration of the revision of a new updated version. About a third of the experts invited to join committees declined to do so for this reason. The revised manual (expected to be out next year) means researchers can get funding, patients can get insurance reimbursements, and pharmaceutical companies can get their share, which makes it a win-win all around…expect for the kids. Don’t get me wrong, many children (and their parents) find a significant benefit to treatment and truly have a disorder that helps these kids function better. In other cases, kids still struggle with symptoms and medications do not work. I just question whether we are over-diagnosing and over-treating children before other causes are ruled out.
Lets look at the possible other causes of mental illness:
1. Most kids don’t have the best diets. Many eat foods loaded with transfats, sugars and chemicals (food colorings, preservatives, MSG). Eating poorly can lead to mineral depletion, especially magnesium and zinc. This can lead to sleeping problems which can exacerbate symptoms.
2. Kids can be low in essential fatty acids (omega-3), which is well documented to help depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.
3. Many children don’t have enough fiber in their diet which is essential for good digestion, and also helps keep blood sugar balanced. When I see kids that are irritable or upset and blow-up easily, blood sugars can be a common reason.
4. Some kids have liver congestion and have sluggish bowl movements. You might think thats a conversation you often hear in nursing homes, but being constipated causes toxins to recirculate which causes brain inflammation and problems in concentration, focusing, and emotionally instability.
5. Malabsorption is another problem I often see in children (and adults). This can be due to food allergies (especially gluten and dairy), intestinal yeast, or bacteria and parasites that cause inflammation that disrupts the ability to make adequate digestive enzymes that helps us absorb our foods and nutrients.
6. Hydrochloric acid (stomach acids) allow us to assimilate and absorb proteins and minerals that we need to synthesize neurotransmitters (serotonin, acetylcholine, dopamine and others). This translates to how we see the world around us and how we behave or react to stressful situations.
7. Genetic chemical imbalances. There are simple tests to determine whether a child has pyroluria or whether they are making too much, or too little histamine levels (which is also a neurotransmitter, not just something that is related to allergies). http://www.kryptopyrrole.com/
8. Isolation makes kids feel emotionally withdrawn, not wanted or valued for who they are. I know this sounds trite, but love, love, love. Hug your kids more. Be involved in their lives. Listen to their music, watch a movie with them. Just BE with them. Kids (like all of us) need to know they’re loved and appreciated.
Consider seeing a practitioner that looks at the bigger picture before starting your kids on medication. Of course, psychotherapy is also very helpful when combining any treatment.