Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Turning Tragedy Into Change

Last week there was another school shooting in the United States, home to more school shootings (by far) than any other country in the world.  Too often nowadays, tragedy leads not to action, but fearful avoidance.  There have been 74 school shootings in the last 18 months, fifteen of which were of the variety that make national headlines – the ones you would know about.  15 over 18 months is one every five weeks.  The time has passed for talking about it and the time has come to do something.  Many reasons exist for why these incidents have become more prevalent in the last twenty years than ever before.  Not to discount any of the other reasons that these occurrences have increased, but the primary intention of this column is to call into question the manner in which our society has chosen to deal with mental instability in children and offer solutions.

No matter the effect, there is always a cause.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, close to 50% of all teenagers have been diagnosed with a mental disorder.  They also posit that 20% of teenagers have or will suffer from a “severe” mental health disorder.  There is quite a bit of controversy as to whether or not the cause leading to such effects is based on faulty diagnosing procedures (over diagnosis being the by-product) or real problems.  All the while, the use of medication to regulate behavior has spiked in the last decade, tripling the number of kids who are taking drugs.  The percentage of children in the United States currently on behavioral prescriptions is now around 10%.  Every pharmaceutical drug has side effects.  We need to be a lot more careful about making drugs the first option and transition them back to their place as the last resort.  “What’s not known about the long-term effects [of drugs prescribed for mental health disorders] is very troubling,” Christopher Bellonci, M.D., assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, said. “The younger you go, the more you can affect the developing brain.”  
If kids are angry, depressed, lacking in focus, or otherwise, the protocols for how to handle them has seen a sharp de-emphasis on the factors that can help these kids and their parents truly understand and overcome their less than desirable conduct and are further emphasizing putting them on prescription drugs.  It’s a consequence of the same dated mindset of treating disease by methods that produce opposite effects of symptoms designed to satiate our rabid societal desire for instant gratification.  The American Psychological Association has concluded, based on their research, “that all too often, Americans are taking medications that may not work or may be inappropriate for their mental health problems.”  Though it is not working, it continues to be a problem.  Back in 2009, the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported “that in 2006 more money was spent on treating mental disorders in children aged 0 to 17 than for any other medical condition, with a total of $8.9 billion. By comparison, the cost of treating trauma-related disorders, including fractures, sprains, burns, and other physical injuries, was only $6.1 billion.”  That’s a lot of money and not a lot of results.  People recognize that these pharmacological methods are ineffective and even dangerous, but little is being done about it.  Step one to doing something about it is spreading awareness that it’s a fundamental flaw in the system to over diagnose and under value the essential reasons why behavioral issues develop.

It would be helpful to have a general understanding of how brain activity is conducted.  The human body works via electrical circuitry similar to what you have in your house.  That circuitry is called the central nervous system.  The brainstem plays a regulatory role in the electrical activity throughout your body, including that of your brain.  There are basic processes that depend on the integrity of the central nervous system to allow for such normal functions as hearing or seeing something and being able to establish a rationale, cognitive thought in reaction to it – in other words, the inner workings that control behavioral response.  Rationale thoughts and behaviors – hard to call them “normal” when everyone is so different – require certain biochemical and neurologic procedures to be in place.  Upper Cervical Care is the process of detecting and removing such functional, neurologically based problems by ensuring that the brainstem is working the way it is designed to.  It should be a part of the revised protocol to help identify the root for mental health issues, as should the other things described below.  
As so little in our world is black and white, I believe that multiple factors have contributed to mental health problems being more prevalent than ever.  I agree that way too many kids are diagnosed with “disorders” when, in reality, they’re just being kids.  Sometimes, the mistakes children make are little more than their learning process for how to grow up and adapt in a world that’s increasingly different.  Yet, when it is an actual problem and not a few bad choices, there are nutritional factors to consider, as our foods have largely been stripped of their nutritional value in an effort to make eating more convenient and fast.  It is also a cultural shift, which has led to teachers being handcuffed in their ability to educate and entitled kids who don’t believe that they have anything to learn.  Then, the media is so negative and the TV shows so melodramatic that it is a wonder if children even know anymore that the world has a lot to offer them if they offer something to it.  Add to that the spotlight that kids are put under from early ages through social media and online influences and the generally regarded fact that kids no longer have a strong sense of personal responsibility.  
Failure to consider these fundamental factors and assuming that the best option is to essentially numb bad behaviors and thoughts is a dangerous game – literally.  “Some 90 percent of school shootings over more than a decade have been linked to a widely prescribed type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs,” according to British psychiatrist Dr. David Healy.  Some sources say it’s actually 100%.  Enough is enough; it’s time for a change.  I sincerely hope that we will all soon come to the conclusion that these tragedies should stimulate a serious revamping of how we collectively view mental health.  
Thinking good things for you,

Dr. Chad

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