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For the first time in 15 years, doctors and scientists are making changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM. This encyclopedic manual is a guide to all mental disorders, and intended to be used by all health care professionals to classify and treat mental disorders. One of the most controversial sections of the manual is that which applies and classifies mental disorders in children. In this revision, those diseases will be revisited, and in some cases, new ones might be added.
Why is this significant? When a mental disorder in children is officially recognized, it can affect a child’s entire life, because diagnosis is often followed by very powerful drugs. And the drugs used to treat these illnesses have very serious side effects, especially in children. In America, doctors have no problem prescribing these drugs. In fact, psychiatric drugs are among the most prescribed in this country, with $40 billion being spent on three categories of psychiatric drugs alone: antipsychotics, antidepressants, and medicines to treat ADHD.
This is another aspect of the public health risks we run by allowing drug companies such a heavy hand in our health care system. With these diagnoses available to doctors, drug companies encourage doctors to prescribe their powerful drugs for off-label use in children, often paying the doctors outright for their willingness.
In fact, for the past 6 years, psychiatric experts in their fields were asked to join committees that would review batches of conditions in the DSM, but they would have to limit the money received from drug companies to $10,000. A third of the doctors requested declined because they were unwilling to limit their involvement with drug companies. This is a perfect example of how these relationships have intruded into doctors doing what is best for their patients.
The current conundrum for the experts that were willing to put their financial interests aside and get involved is whether to add new categories or sub-categories of mental illness for children. But with the over-medication of children as is, is adding more ways to categorize them a good idea?
Dr. David Elkins, president of the American Psychological Association’s Society for Humanistic Psychology, told the Wall Street Journal that “I don’t think we solved the overdiagnosing and overprescribing of psychiatric drugs for children by inventing another category that may unintentionally catch even more children.”
As long as the drug industry profits off of convincing doctors and parents that children need to be drugged in order to be managed, and these same doctors who receive money on the side are deciding how to define these very disorders, more and more children will be medicated and suffer serious side effects as a result. Studies show that if doctors truly prescribed these antipsychotics to children who actually need them, there would be 90% less prescriptions written for children.
The fact that drug companies are pushing drugs such as anti-psychotics on vulnerable children has not gone unnoticed: drug companies have recently paid out the largest settlements in history, over $5 billion. But does this money make up for the lives that have been so severely affected in irreversible ways? Children are prescribed these drugs for almost anything, even when there is absolutely no scientific proof that the treatment would be effective, including sleeplessness, anxiety, or ADHD.