August 30, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. An unfortunate trend that was just getting started 22 years ago continues unabated today: putting children on multiple psychiatric medications in unstudied combinations. Plus, Alabama schools try to cope with cyberbullying – and get parents to monitor kids’ social media.

An uncontrolled national experiment

Twenty-two years ago, in an article in Family Therapy Networker magazine called “Generation Rx” (later republished by Alternet), I wrote about a trend called polypharmacy that was beginning to alarm many mental health professionals: Doctors, frequently pediatricians, were putting children on multiple psychiatric medications, most or all of them unapproved for kids. I called it an “uncontrolled national experiment.” Joseph Woolston, then, as now, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Yale, told me this:

  • “The pressure to medicate children has increased enormously. Every single day, we have at least one case where the managed care reviewer says to us, ‘If you don’t start the child on medications within 24 hours after admission, we will not fund another day of hospital.’ ”
  • Even more alarming, says Woolston, is the increasingly common practice of putting “probably tens of thousands of kids” on almost random combinations of psychoactive medications. “We’re using them as guinea pigs, and we’re not even keeping track of them. It’s scary.”

Little has changed – except now those numbers are in the millions. Sunday’s New York Times featured a front-page story on the “Cocktail of Psychiatric Drugs” being prescribed to America’s teens. “This is a generation of guinea pigs,” said Lisa Cosgrove, a clinical psychologist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “You can very cogently argue that we don’t have evidence about what it means to be on multiple psychotropic medications.” 

While many psychiatrists say these medications can help stabilize the mental health of suicidal teens, several also told the Times that they are prescribed too easily, often as a quick fix for families that cannot access therapy – due to a lack of money, available appointments or desire. 

Today, many of the drugs prescribed still aren’t approved for child or adolescent use, yet are prescribed in combinations which are all but unstudied – including for their long-term impact on developing brains. A 2020 study in the journal Pediatrics found that 41% of people age 2 to 24 prescribed a drug for ADHD were also prescribed at least one other for anxiety, depression or another disorder. The study found more than 50 different medications used in varying combinations, and a review by the Times found that about half of them weren’t approved for use by teens.

-Rob Waters with Courtney Wise

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To address cyberbullying, keep tabs on your kid’s social media 

Photo: Shutterstock

Last school year, a junior at Elkmont High School in Alabama, took their own life – a tragedy that some school officials attribute to in-person and on-line bullying. Now school officials in some Alabama school districts are implementing peer counseling programs and calling on parents to engage in active oversight of their child’s social media use to reduce bullying, The Decatur Daily reported in a story republished by Yahoo News.

 Morgan County assistant superintendent Tracie Turrentine told The Daily that most disciplinary issues in her schools are related to cyberbullying. “People hide behind their computers a little bit easier than when they do face-to-face,” Turrentine said. Dwight Satterfield, deputy superintendent of Decatur City Schools, says parents need to be consistent in monitoring their child’s online activity. “If parents are not going to patrol what their child does online, we’re going to be defeated,” Satterfield said. “Parents should be checking those apps and taking them away at a certain age.”

Some schools restrict cell phone use and block social media sites on school servers. Others have started peer mentoring programs. Students are paired intentionally so a student whose parents are separating might be matched with a peer who has been through a parental divorce. But the biggest need may be for parents to learn how social media works. “Children are far more advanced than some parents in technology,” Turrentine said. “We need to educate ourselves.”

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In other news…

It’s a horrifying thing to consider, but NBC4 in Columbus, Ohio, in conjunction with The Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers wants parents to know how children can find help in the event of a sexual assault or rape. Reporting the incident and connecting the child to mental health services is key. 

At the Psychonaut Academy of Detroit, “medicine man” Sincere Seven provides the community with mental healing through psychedelic experiences. Read the story in the Detroit Free Press.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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