The increasing diagnoses of mental health issues in children, along with the prescribing of psychotropic and antipsychotic medication, is beginning to cause alarm. In 2010, children were two times more likely to receive medical care for mental health conditions than they were 15 years earlier. The mental health diagnosis rate for adults remained stable. However, the use of medications for mental health diagnoses doubled during this period.
The November 2013 issue of JAMA psychiatry published a study indicating that young people are being diagnosed and treated for mental health issues more often than adults, and are increasingly being prescribed psychotropic medications.
The study raises questions about mental health diagnosis and treatment, according to the Brain Balance Center's online article. While the study did not investigate causes of the increases in mental health care and drug interventions, the results of the study raise important questions about mental health diagnosis and treatment in the U.S. for both children and adults. More research is needed to establish the cause or causes of the rising rates, but developmental and behavioral issues in children leave parents asking what they can do NOW to help their children.
In agreement with the JAMA study, the CDC reported a rise in the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children, as well as a rise in medication usage. The CDC reported that two-thirds of the children diagnosed with ADHD were using medication which is an increase of 28 percent from 2007 to 2011.
The trend of increases in diagnoses and medication of mental health issues in children caused a group of college students at the University of Nebraska at Kearney to begin a campaign to raise awareness about the potential dangers of psychotropic drugs in children, Kearney Hub author, Josh Moody, reported on Dec. 7, 2013.
A psychotropic drug is a drug used to treat a psychiatric condition such as ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia. How the drug is working is it's changing the chemical structure of the human brain; it's adding synthetic serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, or it's inhibiting the release, explained Jeanne Stolzer, a family studies professor at UNK.
The interesting thing about this whole psychiatric paradigm that we're enmeshed in right now is the theory that mental illness — ADHD, depression, anxiety — is caused by low serotonin levels or low dopamine levels, said Stolzer. We cannot measure the serotonin in your brain, so the theory is flawed at the onset.
ConsumerReports.org reported on the use and overuse of antipsychotic drugs in children with the number of children taking antipsychotic drugs tripling over the last 10 to 15 years. According to ConsumerReports.org, The increase comes not because of an epidemic of schizophrenia or other forms of serious mental illness in children, but because doctors are increasingly prescribing the drugs to treat behavior problems, a use not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And a disproportionate number of those prescriptions are written for poor and minority children, some as young as age 2.
ConsumerReports.org also stated, Antipsychotics have become huge moneymakers for the drug industry. In 2003, annual U.S. sales of the drugs were estimated at $2.8 billion; by 2011, that number had risen to $18.2 billion. That huge growth was driven in part by one company—Janssen Pharmaceuticals— and its aggressive promotion of off-label uses in children and elderly patients, relying on marketing tactics that according to the federal government, crossed legal and ethical lines.
Drug companies benefit from the use of the drugs, and push the drugs by emphasizing the benefits of the drugs and not emphasizing the risks of drug use-especially in children. The trends of the increase mental health diagnoses, and increases in the use of psychotropic and antipsychotic drugs in children attracted nationwide attention. This is reflected in the many publications that have reported on these issues, and pointed out the unanswered questions and research that needs to be done to clarify these issues.
Jeanne Stolzer, a family studies professor at University of Nebraska at Kearney stated, The fact of the matter is this, we don't have any idea of the long term effects of what we're doing right now, because we've never done it before. We do know that the earlier you start a drug the more likely there is to be brain atrophy, we know that, it's a scientific fact. And we know that the earlier you begin a drug the more likely there is for addiction processes to occur.