Judith Warner explains that we’ve got issues

Judith Warner argues that the idea of overmedicating children is not accurate in We've Got Issues.

For many parents, myself included, parenting consists of heavy doses of love, a dash of drawing on one’s own memories when you were the same age your child now inhabits, and healthy amounts of anxiety.

How much involvement is too much?  Too little?  When do you cross the line and enter the helicopter zone?  How much unscheduled time is all right?  How much academic challenge should the kid have?  How do you deal with drugs?  How much space to give?  What time curfew?  Are there rules you don’t enforce because they entail too much conflict?  Is it all right to raise your voice?

And on and on and on.

Underneath all of these questions, of course, is a desire to do right by your child, the gradual understanding that the answers tend to be both murky and constantly changing and, eventually, the realization that some of the most important things to do for your child are to let them know they are loved, expose them to different opportunities and experiences, share and model working hard and with passion, treating them and others with respect and getting out of the way to let them grow, make their own mistakes and draw their own lessons.

Easier written than done, to be sure, and often much easier to take a long-term perspective with other people’s children than one’s own.

And, still, I can say with confidence that one of the most contentious and vexing subjects is that of medication.

Judith Warner takes on this thorny area in We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.

This book, which is slated to be released next month, is essentially a counter-argument against the popularly held and commonly disseminated notion that we are in an era of rampant drug prescriptions by doctors in bed with the pharmaceutical industry and administered by parents desperate to find a solution to their children’s disruptive behavior.

Warner acknowledges that she accepted this narrative when she began researching We’ve Got Issues close to six years ago.

By the end of her reporting, she writes in the introduction that she came to the following ‘simple truths’:

“They are: That the suffering of children with mental health issues (and their parents) is very real.  That almost no parent takes the issue of psychiatric diagnosis lightly or rushes to ‘drug’ his or her child; and that responsible psychiatrists don’t, either.  And that many children’s lives are essentially saved by medication, particularly when it’s combined with evidence-based forms of therapy.”

Warner devotes much of the book to expounded on these assertions.   The book is particularly effective at discussing other books and articles that have been written on the subject that have contributed to current attitudes.

At base, Warners maintains, we as a society still consider mental health issues to be a stigma, and, while we have made fitful steps forward, much work remains to be done to more fully accept and integrate those children and their families.

The book itself has issues. The circles in which Warner travels appear quite narrow-We’ve Got Issues is heavy on middle- and upper-middle class families whose children are college bound-and live in the Northeast-and she repeatedly is setting up straw men to knock them down in a way that can keep the reader off balance.  After maintaining that we are not living through an epidemic of drug prescription, for example, she does make the points both that diagnoses were far less in previous generations and that many doctors do indeed have uncomfortably close ties with drug companies.

This disequilibrium can make for queasy reading, but does not detract from the quality of the book.  In the final 50 of 250 pages, Warner starts to articulate her vision of healthier doctor/drug company relations, parents’ successfully helping their children and a society that deals more openly with mental health issues.

Reading Warner’s book both gave me moments of gratitude that Aidan is a psychologically healthy and intact young man and a slightly uneasy feeling of losing one’s footing.  Other parents may see this as just another day of parenting, and I give Warner credit for challenging commonly held notions.

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8 responses to “Judith Warner explains that we’ve got issues

  1. I am glad to see a book coming out in dealing with children & adolescents with mental illness.

    I am a parent whose son had a mental illness, which came out at about age 10 when his early puberty hormones kicked in. He had severe OCD & depression. My son was murdered in a Walmart parking lot near Houston so his fight with mental illness is over.

    To help others I now work with NAMI – a national mental help support group organized to help defeat or deal with overcoming mental illness & the stigma of it.

    I hope this book will be a real help to parents.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, James, for your note. I am sorry to hear about your loss and wish you luck in your work with NAMI. I would be happy to send you a copy of the book if that would be helpful.

      Please let me know at your convenience.

      Jeff

    • James,
      In October, 2009, Senator Charles Grassley revealed that between 2006–2008 NAMI garnered 3/4 of its income from pharmaceutical companies–$23 million . http://www.ahrp.org/cms/content/view/696/9/
      So how do you feel you can objectively help people with mental health problems when the organization you work for is so heavily influenced by drug companies? To me, your organization’s main financial contributor is biasing the research that it produces.

      Basing mental health treatments in our country mainly on pharmaceutical drugs is the wrong approach and it’s killing thousands of people every year. Please reconsider your association with NAMI.

  2. Judith Warner is an ignorant, uneducated person who needs to take some ADHD meds for herself and sit in a classroom for a day to see what it’s really like. And NAMI, similar to CHADD, is supported and biased by drug company money from Elily Lilly, the maker of Prozac. No conflict of interest there, right! This was documented in Peter Breggin’s Toxic Psychiatry.
    Also check out Peter Breggin’s, Talking Back to Ritalin: What doctor’s aren’t telling your about stimulants and ADHD. Plus, here’s a link to another good article based on something more than just pharmaceutical-company-sponsored research. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/kids-on-adhd-drugs-poor-at-school/story-e6frg6nf-1225831116701

    Kids on ADHD drugs `poor at school’

    Stephen Lunn, Social affairs writer
    From: The Australian
    February 17, 2010 12:00AM

    CHILDREN with ADHD who use prescription drugs to manage their condition are 10 times more likely to perform poorly at school than ADHD kids who avoid medication, a new report reveals.
    The report also finds stimulant drugs such as Ritalin and dexamphetamine make no significant difference to the level of depression, self-perception and social functioning of a 14-year-old with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Howell, for your thorough and passionate note. I look forward to reading the book and article you suggested.

      Jeff

  3. Jeff, just wanted to give you a heads-up that Judy is going to be talking about her book on Fem2.0 Blog radio on May 18, 1:00 pm est. This is an interactive event, with live-chat and tweeting, so you’ll be able to share your comments and questions with Judy. You can get more program details here: http://www.fem2pt0.com/fem20-talkshoe-radio/
    The program is will happen here: http://www.talkshoe.com/talkshoe/web/talkCast.jsp?masterId=74229&cmd=tc

    Hope to see you!

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