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ADHD, The Check-out Line, and Me

Todays post from TheRoot

There is a lot to talk about, like:

What a great job Obama is doing (and how saddened I am by how many are so critical so soon), the auto company bailout and why it's not "cost effective" for the big 3 to go green, the staggering number of people losing jobs, and the theme I've hit several times since the Olympics: China's devastating invasion of parts of Africa. 

But right now I want to have a moment about ADHD, Ritalin, and prevailing attitudes about mental health.

Today at the health food store I overheard a conversation between a Dad, the person ringing up his groceries, and a woman on line.

The Dad said his daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, and Ritalin was working well. He said she's been experiencing a lot of success in school and at home and "her turn-around" was "like a miracle." The checker gave an enthusiastic high-five. "Hey man, that's so great."

Then the woman chimed in with anecdotal information about an Omega 3 supplement that "helped the son of a friend." She tried to remember the name of the supplement, and while reaching for the name, suggested Dad try it. 

Dad suddenly looked ashamed and embarrassed. He said he had "read some studies" about the supplement and was hoping to "get some soon." He really wanted to get his daughter off the Ritalin, he said. Because although she was doing better, he "hated being duped by the drug companies," who probably "invented ADHD in the first place."

The woman nodded, and agreed. "It's worth a shot," she said, offering no further information about her clinical credentials or the supplement she suggested Dad try on the daughter who responded to Ritalin as if it were "a miracle." "The overmedication of children in this country is a crime," she said. "Have you tried taking her off wheat and sugar?"

At which point I had to tune out or risk an intervention.

Listen, I agree big pharma is problematic. I agree all kinds of illnesses are "created" by drug marketers, a lot of kids are over medicated, and the whole world should be focused on preventive care, and living holistically in organic environments.

But sometimes illness actually responds to Western medicine, and when it does, I for one am happy to have access to it, not just for bone marrow transplants and the shrinking of brain tumors, but for schizophrenia and bi-polar disease, clinical depression and Tourette's.

I left the store wondering when we as a culture will decide once and for all that mental wellness, like any other kind of health, is worthy of pharmaceutical support. When mental illness, like cancer or lupus or HIV, will finally be deemed legitimate enough to warrant medication.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Like any other disease, it's something to treat. Whether it's with herbs, meds, beets, or yoga doesn't matter. What matters is that people--regardless of ideology, religion or cultural taboos--get better, feel happier, and are more able to make healthy decisions for themselves and the people they love.

Right?

I'd like to hear your thoughts.

 

December 9th, 2008

Comments:

Comment #1 by Vanessa Nicole on December 9, 2008 - 10:26pm

Dear Rebecca,

I can totally relate to wanting to jump into conversations with people in stores! But then I am not always prepared to cite the sources of whatever I am saying at the moment so I shut up...

For the most part, I agree with what you are saying. Dealing with a Mental health challenge is no more shameful than a physical health one. However, as the child of a mother who suffered from bi-polar disorder, in my opinion, the issue lies in the side effects. As you said, in a perfect world, we would all be living so holistically that chemically-created medications would not be necessary. But in real life, many of us need these meds to survive. Unfortunately, most of them come with side effects. Many times the side effects are so horrible that it makes the patient wonder which is worse: the disease or the side effects. Not to mention the loss of personal power that comes from being chemically dependent. Hence the reason why people try to turn to "natural remedies" hoping that they will cure the ailment without the side effects.

I have heard people, including my mother, who have taken medication for both physical or mental illnesses, and who have subsequently seemed to "cure" themselves with natural remedies, and/or lifestyle changes. However, most of them started off on the medications, and most will have to admit that these medications help to get them out of a slump that being unwell put them in.

So basically, I agree. Most of us need the meds to bail us out when we are really sick. I mean who has not taken an Aleve when those cramps really kick our butts? But, at some point we all decide to take charge of our health and find ways to overcome what ails us through our own strength and will. And I think that it is the control over our own bodies and minds that ultimately empowers us.

Thanks,
Vanessa Nicole

Comment #2 by Anonymous on December 10, 2008 - 4:12am

I have to agree with your article and the comments. I was diagnosed with a mild form of mental illness back in 2004. I was skeptical about taking the medicines due to the side effects. But I reluctantly took the meds anyway after dividing the pill in half. This caused me to sleep and relax which allowed my mind to heal from the constant rememberance of some of the traumatic events that I had recently been through. Although my doctor said that I would have to take them forever I knew different and began to rid myself of the things that caused me stress. I went to counseling and ate healthier. Eventually I replaced my meds with an natural alternative which seem to work better than my prescription. However I still take my meds when I find myself thinking too much and not being able to sleep. Or when someone or something has really gotten on my nerves. LOL

Comment #3 by Angelic Scribe on December 11, 2008 - 6:23pm

My daughter attended an elite k-8 private school that promoted a program of diversity and montessori style education. It was in 2nd grade that I started to hear ADHD. By the thime she reached 4th. grade her teacher literally was up in my face daily suggesting that I have her tested. I did not, I knew in my heart that the choice I had made for her as a parent wasn't the right choice for her in terms of her education. She had anxiety. She was neither white or Jewish. She was a young, Black girl from the inner city in a cookie cutter enviorment. I could kick myself for those three years. I removed her from the school and walked her through 1 rough year of the massive world that is public school. She has excelled, she is a freshman in high school. I could go on about her wonderful GPA. But what is really important is that she is HAPPY (puberty notwithstanding) If you need medication, by all means take it, but please get a good doctor and diagnosis.

Comment #4 by sandra on December 13, 2008 - 6:44pm

As with anything "Caveat Emptor"(buyer beware) Some medicines are good and some have outcomes yet to be determined. As one who is on medication for a medical condition I worry about what happens when I can no longer afford medications due to inadequate health care? what happens when its found that the medications cause a new set of problems? what happens when or if I become involved in a Katrina type situation and I'm not able to get to my medications? So deep down something tells me that reliance on medications is not a good thing; but, in the interim until one of the above happens, I take them: mostly out of fear and a lack of understanding and faith in my doctors. The question is: what would have happened, if I didn't take them? I may never find the answer to that question; because now I feel reliant on them. What a quandry? I guess one must find the answer for themselves. Unfortunately, if a child never finds that answer for themselves: then what????as with life lots of questions...

Comment #5 by Anonymous on December 13, 2008 - 8:41pm

your writing ends Right? my answer ends you are very right

Comment #6 by Lisa B on December 13, 2008 - 9:49pm

Rebecca,

I am the daughter of someone with bipolar and married to someone who sufferes from bipolar as well. My father I did not know about until 4 years into my husbands diagnosis. I agree that there are alternatives to many things out in the world, but what is best for one is not always best for another. I too have to clamp my mouth shut many times in a sore, but usually I don't! haha.
A world without choices and opinions is a world that is closed and scary. One must remember that nature is here but so are doctors and medications, some of which have saved many a life and family. Or even opened up a world to some.
I wish other people with their wellmeaning (but non doctoral selves) would remember this when offering up their advice.
You never know what someone else has walked through to get where they're at now.
In my house, Lamictal and zyprexa are MIRACLE drugs, so is a certain psychologist. In my father's house, herbs and vitamins are the miracles. Whose right?
answer: We both are.

many blessings for you and yours.
Lisa (a fellow biracial, mother, career, educated, strong, loving wife, who stands by her man and sometimes holds him up! the mama of the house, type of woman...etc etc)

Comment #7 by michal on December 13, 2008 - 10:38pm

Hello Rebecca,
I actually have Tourette's Syndrome, and allopathic medicine has failed me over and over. I will concede that western medicine is extremely useful for emergencies such as a broken leg, but our civilization does not yet have a grasp on the subtleties of the body to treat many chronic "mental" disorders. We can apply a "chemical band-aid" to treat the symptoms and inconveniences posed by these imbalances, but that is hardly the same as treating them.
My Tourette's Syndrome is treated by eating high quality food, getting enough rest, maintaining a high activity level, and staying away from wheat and sugar (believe it or not). I see occupying my liver and kidneys with the processing of strong pharmaceuticals to be counter-productive to my cause.
Perhaps ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety, obesity, and many other problems that arise from within ourselves should be seen not as diseases that need to be treated, but as symptoms of a greater imbalance that stems from our preoccupation with a lot of the wrong shit. If we all honestly tried to solve our problems without the chronic use of pills as a crutch, we might learn more about ourselves and our reason for being, and as part of that process move past these "mental disorders" thereby advancing the human race.

Comment #8 by Super Amanda on December 13, 2008 - 11:44pm

It is definitly not socially prudent to raise the questions you just did. You run the risk of offending many people who quite frankly need to walk twice a day for forty five minutes and radically clean up their diet instead of popping pills. Oprah's latest statement about weight gain which frankly was very annoying, not because I doubt her sincerity but because she mentioned that as soon as she felt her thyroid go haywire she 'ate whatever she wanted.' There is no pill that will remedy that! She frankly needs to fire that trainer guy from the 80's get a female trainer with a similar body type to her own and see what happens with daily exercise.

That said you are correct, certain people definitly DO need the drugs that the drug companies are pushing- especially for depression and anxiety. How many great artists of the first half of the 20th century for instance were without many of the ground breaking drugs that tackle bi-polar disorder? Not to mention what we all now know about factors like family history both genetic and socio-economic effecting of physical and mental well being. Paul Robeson comes to mind especially but that's another blog post.

We really do need a pill that keeps us from entering into check out line conversations at the local organic market! There are so many "Goji berry smoothie" this and "watercress pill" that advice being dished out that your inability to not join in with a snappy rejoinder is impressive.

Comment #9 by cm on December 14, 2008 - 6:33pm

I'd give the father and his friend a bit more of a break: it is hard enough for a neuropharmacologist to understand the mechanisms of action of Ritalin in children and how that interacts with learning, or what the long-term effects might be.

Such studies are incredibly hard to do well, since there are all sorts of confounds possible, such as metabolic differences in children and how they metabolize Ritalin, consistency of use/compliance of use, and just brain differences. It will be probably some years (decades?) before we understand how Ritalin works as well as we understand how, for example, the Salk vaccine worked or how fluoride works to strengthen teeth.

If neuroscientists are struggling to understand how Ritalin works, it is so much harder for a non-scientist parent to understand these issues. In the age of easy Internet look-up, one can find scary facts about almost anything, and generally parents are not trained to understand which sources of information are the best. And doctors probably DO overprescribe Ritalin, and they are probably encouraged to do so by pharmaceutical companies.

All this said, have some empathy for the dad. He doesn't understand the science, he is worried for his daughter as only a parent can be, and as an American he is rightly spooked by the health industry here.

Comment #10 by Russell on December 15, 2008 - 3:03pm

I always look at the big picture instead of the snap shot and I wonder is the egg or the chicken to blame.
Is our horrible diet laced with chemicals along with the countries illicit drug culture causing the rise in mental illness or are we stresing ourselves out and causing chemical inbalances from hormonal responces.

Comment #11 by Myesha on December 15, 2008 - 3:16pm

Rebecca,

Thanks for this post. I blog at the above homepage and have been conflicted about starting a discussion on this topic. My daughter has ADHD and we have often felt isolated and "hemmed in" from talking about it for fear of being judged by others. A friend turned me on to Daniel Amen's, "Healing ADD" which helped a great deal. Our daughter is very bright and precocious, but she needs a lot of shepherding due to her problem with organization, impulsivity, and focus. Perhaps I will take courage soon!

Comment #12 by ritalin on October 17, 2010 - 7:04pm

Russel, i fully agreed

Comment #13 by Iris @ CPHQ Exams on February 15, 2011 - 9:56pm

It's bad enough for someone (or their dad, Mom, guardian) that they have to cope with an illness, e.g. mental illness, obesity, HIV. Like you, I think society's attitudes to these illnesses need to change from being discriminatory to one that is supportive and value-adding. It should be acceptable that someone develops a mental illness, just as it is if someone get the flu or a heart attack. How come the latter are viewed upon so differently to a person who has, say, depression or schizophrenia? No one intends to be ill, and most people would do anything to avoid being unwell.

Comment #14 by nymphomax on May 25, 2011 - 7:43pm

This is a serious matter and it has reached high levels of expansion among adults lately. The point is to recognize the first symptoms and address a specialist in ADHD, so this disorder doesn`t get properly install and in order to avoid further unpleasant effects later.

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