ADD and ADHD have become so commonplace these days that we rarely talk critically about either diagnosis anymore. Odds are that either you or someone you know has recently talked casually about someone being “ADD,” or you may have joked about your own ADD regularly preventing you from accomplishing things in life. In fact, we talk about ADD as though its the modern day common cold, and scrutinize the diagnosis with about the same amount of thought (meaning we don’t).
The reality is that more kids today are labeled ADD, more kids are on drugs as a result, and fewer people seem to really care. I have had my own criticisms of this changing paradigm, and you can read some of my thoughts here, here, and here. Today, I am adding a new question to the ADD phenomena in yet another attempt to add to the argument that this “mental illness” is really not a mental illness at all, but instead a pharmaceutically-created problem that has duped millions of families into accepting an ADD diagnosis for their child, followed by unnecessary and potentially dangerous drugs.
The pharmaceutical companies have created, over time and consistent messaging, that unfocused kids are somehow diseased. The reality, however, is that kids who are focused are probably more abnormal than kids who are challenged by focus if we were to employ objective measures rather than scare tactics. Remember, developing focus is a life skill, and many adults have trouble with focus so shouldn’t we expect this is a normal developmental hurdle for kids to improve upon?
An overlooked irony that’s quite telling
With every medical condition I can think of the end-goal is to eliminate the bad “thing,” regardless of whether we are talking about the flu, cancer, arthritis, even headaches. Assuming ADD/ADHD is a bad thing, eliminating it (if even possible) would lead us to assume the opposite state is desired (turning active kids into docile kids). But subdued, quiet, inactive kids are looked at strangely, too, with many parents and mental health workers assigning them their own psychopathology, like autism. Simply put, if we can eliminate ADD/ADHD, then what are we really left with? The irony is that getting rid of all active ADD/ADHD symptoms, unlike all other medical conditions, really isn’t a desired state for most people — and may even lead to its own psychopathology.
Going for a target that isn’t even realistic
So maybe the goal is to give stimulant drugs to kids that hits some “perfect” spot in human development, one that is the optimal balancing point between active kids and tranquil kids. If that sounds unrealistic right off the drawing board, that’s because it is. In fact, even the thought of stealing spontaneity, creativity, and active kid behaviors in exchange for robotic behaviors should sound ludicrous on its own, and that’s before the discussion of mental illness and drugs used to treat ADD/ADHD.
So lets review:
A typical medical condition:
- Headache — treated by medicine — headache goes away
- ADD/ADHD — A drug is provided — flat-line kid behaviors are produced, leaving the kid with a mental health label, drug habit, and possibly a new mental illness related to his new lethargic behaviors.
A better route to go
If the goal is to modify active child behaviors (not eliminate them), wouldn’t behavioral approaches and life skills development not only more precisely hit this magic “target,” but also do so without a mental illness label and drugs? And wouldn’t these efforts actually strengthen parent-child relations?
Its easy to fall into the ADD/ADHD trap, so don’t feel bad if you are one of the millions of adults right now with a kid on psychostimulants. Drugs are all around us these days, and for just about every condition, and it’s likely that many of the parents you know have their kids on something. In fact, you may have even been provided seemingly helpful advice from friends, family, teachers, or even your doctor that there is something your child can take that will better keep your kid in line. After that, it’s easy when all most parents have to do is ask their doctor for a prescription. Sadly, this is reality today, but it may be prudent to look deeper at exactly what thinking and behaviors we are trying to change, and the means in which we are using along that pursuit. Are the trade-offs worth it?
Setting your child up with a potential self-fulfilling prophecy is troubling enough, but there are also real-life issues including the creation of a pre-existing condition (higher future health insurance rates), potential drug side-effects (and addiction), and even drug abuse. Conversely, the behaviors extinguished might have included the creativity to design the next big thing, or the spontaneity engage in healthy life activities. As a mental health clinician and a parent, I think these are very real and immensely important questions everyone must ask before deciding about ADD/ADHD.