In a previous post on Ritalin and the Word of Wisdom, I hit some sensitive nerves of faithful members who have had to use psychiatric medications for their children or themselves. One writer, a well known and respected Latter-day Saint defender, Mike Parker, made some excellent points that I wish to share with others to provide insight into the challenges that some parents face. I especially want to urge us all to be hesitant in judging parents whose kids are on Ritalin or other medications, and to urge us to also be more understanding of those who rely on medications to cope with behavioral or mental health challenges. Here are some excerpts from his comments on my post, as well as from subsequent e-mail:
While it is possible that doctors are overprescribing Ritalin, I find it hard to believe that there is a massive movement among educators to recommend it to parents. Every interaction I have had with a teacher or school administrator has been one of strict neutrality on the subject — don’t condemn parents who choose to medicate their children, and don’t recommend medication to those who don’t. Teachers are not trained medical professionals, and most of them know it.
My 8-year-old son has ADHD, and we have been treating him with Concerta (a time-release version of Ritalin) for about two years now. The medication has been a Godsend for him and our family. His behavior goes way beyond simply “talking in class, wiggling, having lots of energy, [and] not paying attention.” He gets up at 5:30 every morning, and cannot be quiet without someone or something to interact with (until recently, this meant waking every else up). He talks incessantly, asking question after question. Fifteen minutes of homework takes him two hours, and that’s with me or my wife sitting beside him, constantly redirecting his attention to the work on the table. With medication, he is able to control himself, pay attention, get his homework done, and still enjoy friends, family, and fun. My wife and I thank God for Concerta. . . .
Spend a week in my house with my son and without medication, and then try to tell me that he’s just showing “indications of, well, being young.” . . .
Our home was once a living hell (I’m not exaggerating), and my wife and I spent many nights on our knees in tears pleading for help. Putting our son on medication was the toughest decision we have ever made as parents, and we still worry about the long-term implications of our decision. It has not been an easy path, but it has made an enormous difference in the quality of our family life and his interactions at home, school, and church.
Needless to say, it’s a sensitive subject, and it’s easy for me to misread anti-medication statements as opposed to ALL meds, not just meds for kids who don’t need it. There are so many people we’ve met who don’t know anything about ADHD except what they’ve heard: That’s it’s an excuse for bad parenting, that it’s just “kids being kids”, etc. In real cases — like ours — it’s a real condition that can be treated.
In our society there is a real stigma against psychiatric medication. Many people feel that it’s a cop out, that with a little effort (or, for Mormons, a little prayer and fasting) the problems will just go away. They don’t. And many families are struggling with ADHD, depression, and other treatable problems but won’t go to a psychiatrist because they’re ashamed or feel that would admit they’re weak. I wish we as Americans and as Latter-day Saints could reach out to these people and let them know we empathize and that it’s okay to ask for help.
Anti-Ritalin articles compound this stigma. Yes, it’s probably true that some children are receiving it who don’t need it, but there are many, many children who DO need it whose parents are scared by what they’ve heard and read online. . . .
One other thing: You might find Michael Fumento’s February 2003 article in The New Republic enlightening. He dispels many of the myths about ADHD, including the ones about schools pushing it and children being overmedicated.
Mike raises some excellent points to add importance balance to my hasty comments.
I think we also need to be particularly careful in avoiding judgment of those who are suffering from depression or other mental health disorders. In so many cases, it is not simply an imagined illness that they need to shake off. Those who have never faced the burdens of true depression or schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder or panic attacks can rarely appreciate how real and devastating these problems can be. Because we don’t see a broken leg or open bleeding wound, it is easy for us to imagine that the illness or injury is not real and certainly doesn’t require medication.
May we focus more on helping and supporting than on second-guessing and judging. And that needs to begin right here with yours truly.