Girl Planting seeds

STOP Over Medicating Our Kids

drugs_reviseBy Deirdre Imus, 9-4-2019
According to a 2016 report by the Child Mind Institute, mental health disorders are the most common health issues facing children in the United States. Approximately one in five kids suffers from a mental health or learning disorder; 50 percent of these begin before age 14, and 75 percent before age 24. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavior problems, anxiety and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in children aged 2-17 years, and more than a third of these kids have more than one of these problems.

Among the more disturbing trends highlighted by the CDC is that one in six children between 2 and 8 years of age has a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. Rates of anxiety, depression, and ADHD are all on the rise in the U.S. Has anyone stopped to consider why?

Never before has a generation of kids been so heavily vaccinated and medicated. In the 1980s, children received 24 doses of 7 vaccines by age 18; as of 2017, they now receive 69 doses of 16 vaccines, according to the National Vaccine Information Center. As a direct result, they are being exposed from a very early age to the heavy metals (like aluminum, a known neurotoxin) and to other dangerous chemicals (like formaldehyde) that are contained in vaccines.

They are also exposed to dangerous substances in other, seemingly innocuous ways. An article published earlier this year in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggested that infant formula is contaminated with aluminum. We know that aluminum – along with lead, cadmium, and mercury – permeates our water supply and many of the foods we eat, as well as the paint on our walls. It is even in infant formula.  A 2014 study published in the The Lancet acknowledged that the rise in prevalence of neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, is directly related to exposure to industrial chemicals and neurotoxicants.

And so we medicate and we medicate and we medicate children of all ages, from the very young to the young adults. But we do not stop to consider how these drugs meant to help might also hurt, especially when they are taken regularly and for extended periods of time?

study published in late July by a team of researchers at Columbia University suggested that many young people being prescribed antipsychotic drugs for ADHD may not actually need them. The study also found that among youths with ADHD, these medications were prescribed most frequently to preschool-aged kids. Other research has found that these drugs themselves can cause changes to brain development in kids. So one problem is perpetuating another.

Like almost all drugs, antipsychotic medications and antidepressants can be effective but they are in no way benign. The risks of taking these drugs include weight gain, diabetes, and unexpected death. Another profound side effect of taking antidepressants is a worsening in suicidal thoughts and behavior, so much so that the FDA has required that this warning go on the label of all prescriptions. The Mayo Clinic website warns that parents of children taking antidepressants should look for concerning signs such as self-injury, aggression, violence, and trouble sleeping.

What’s going on with our kids? Why are we so quick to medicate them with strong drugs that may not necessarily address their mental health issues, but which could possibly cause lasting damage to their health? A study out just a few weeks ago indicated that popular ADHD drugs such as Ritalin and Concerta might be altering the structure of children’s brains in a way that could impair their ability to learn.

There are meaningful lifestyle changes that can be made to try to improve the mental health of anyone who is suffering. Diet has a strong link to the psyche, and research has shown that fruits and vegetables are some of the best brain foods you can eat. On the contrary, fatty foods can exacerbate psychiatric symptoms because they change the bacteria in the gut; in mice this increased anxiety, repetitive behaviors, and poor memory. Best to avoid sugar too, as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says it is linked to higher rates of depression and can make mental health symptoms worse. 

Another great way to try to improve psychological symptoms naturally is through physical activity. Study after study has shown that exercise can reduce depression, anxiety, and improve mood. In kids, movement in and out of the classroom helps them focus. There is no downside to getting up, and if possible, getting out (research has also shown spending more time in green spaces in childhood might lead to better mental health). 

It’s time to expand thinking more holistically about treating these children, about the possible environmental exposures that could have caused or contributed to their struggles, and about what we can do to maximize their well-being now and in the future. 

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