HAWMC – Day Four: Absurd Headlines – Another Idiot

I wish I was making this one up.  

Again, a “doctor” that says, basically, we’re just lazy parents.  Here’s his article (reprinted from the Metro West Daily News) and the comment I left on it.

Childhood Bipolar Disorder or Just Childhood?  By Dr. Jacob Azerrad

On the Today show, a few days after the earthquake in Japan, Meredith Vieira commented that to her surprise, there was no looting, and the victims waited patiently in long lines for help and aid. As a psychologist this set me to thinking about respect and caring for the feelings of others under normal circumstances – let alone in the aftermath of such a cataclysmic event.
For instance, I wondered how many Japanese children would ever need a Far East version of our American television program “Supernanny.” I wondered how many might have the diagnosis childhood bipolar disorder and require behavior modifying drugs?

If their parents had fallen victim to modern American parenting proffered by the pediatric establishment, surely they would have. Not so for American kids who today are pumped full of pills and tagged with diagnoses based on symptoms which more often than not are normal childhood behaviors.

Where were these kids 50 years ago? They barely existed because 50 years ago parents were taught not to reward temper tantrums. Genetics have not changed. The greatest change is the misguided way we are taught to parent our children.

Preschool kids, some as young as 2 years of age, are being drugged with powerful, untested, anti-psychotic drugs. Side-effects include, tics, drooling, and incessant eating. Some children have gained up to 100 pounds and often progress to becoming diabetic. What used to be called the “terrible two’s” is now being seen as the first signs of mental disorder.
Self-proclaimed child rearing “experts” repeatedly advise these parents to hold, soothe, comfort and talk to a child who bites, hits, screams, throws or breaks things, ignores or refuses parenting requests or otherwise behaves in obnoxious, infantile ways. Many of the most popular childrearing books are full of such nonsense. And the more faithfully parents follow this advice, the worse their children become.

Commonsense and a truckload of research argue solidly against these practices. The experts are ignoring the well-established fact that children do what gets noticed, that adult attention usually makes behavior more likely to occur, not less.

When bad behaviors worsen, parents are persuaded that the misbehavior is a symptom of a blood chemistry disorder. Then the child is given a diagnosis such as childhood bipolar disorder and a handful of dangerous anti-psychotic medications.

The increase in the use of antipsychotics is directly tied to the rising incidence of one particular diagnosis, bipolar disorder. Experts estimate that the number of children with this diagnosis is now more than one million and rising, making it more common than autism and diabetes combined. To treat it, doctors are administering medications that have yet to be approved for children. Parents are legally medicating their two-year olds with Risperdal to quiet their tantrums, Trileptal to stabilize their moods, and Clonidine to help them sleep.
On Sept. 4, 2007, The New York Times stated that studies in the 1970s and 80s concluded Bipolar Disorder was rare in children, but between 1994 to 2003, there was an astounding 40-fold increase in the number of children diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. On Nov. 19, 2008, The New York Times reported that 31 children who were diagnosed with Childhood Bipolar Disorder and given the drug Risperdal for tantrums died, and, 1,176 suffered serious side-effects.

In the not too distant future, most of America’s children will be on some type of drug, administered for the supposedly altruistic purpose of helping them “function” more effectively. Industries have been created to do brain scans on kids for the purpose of identifying those who might become bipolar in advance of symptoms.
This is a crime against childhood. It undermines the traditional parental role that children so desperately require: children need parents, not pills!

Children once had discipline; they now have a diagnosis which has resulted in the drugging of young children to a degree unprecedented in our history. Virtually nothing is known about the long-term impact of these medications on children. And no one seems to care. Certainly not the drug companies pushing these drugs, nor the doctors who have been coerced by the pharmaceutical industry and panicking parents alike into prescribing them.

Could the real cause be that the child is for the first time becoming self-aware, and exerting his or her independence by saying “No” and “you are not the boss of me”? Could they simply be kids with a backbone who just want to grow up? And when their independence is restricted, the child discovers that having a tantrum might get him what he wants.
Rather than view their behavior as the result of a problem that needs medicating, could it just be a healthy striving to be more grown-up and independent?

A parent’s job is not to nurture negative toddler behaviors by way of talk therapy, but to teach their child what it really means to be grown-up. A grown-up is caring, handles disappointment calmly, and has self-control, does not hit, bite, or throw things in anger.
Our preschool children are far too young to defend themselves. It’s up to parents to “say no to drugs” and teach their children that life is meant to be learned and experienced; it is not just a pill to be swallowed.

Thankfully, for the future of Japan, the earthquake and tsunami victims haven’t spent the past decades pushing pills as a replacement for the parenting required for the grown-up behavior the whole society now needs in order to rebuild its country.

Jacob Azerrad, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, in private practice in Lexington, Massachusetts. He is the author of “From Difficult to Delightful in Just 30 Days” (McGraw Hill) and “Anyone Can Have a Happy Child” (Warner Books.)

My comment: 

What an ignorant, completely misinformed article.

Doctor Azerrad, have you read Judith Warner’s book, ‘We’ve Got Issues‘ ? It tackles EXACTLY this question. She started with exactly your theory. And after years of research and articles – guess what – she found she was exactly WRONG. Here’s a link to the New York Times Book Review, in case you missed it: 


Is Bipolar Disorder the appropriate diagnosis for all children with some type of emotional disturbance. No, of course not. Is it possibly over diagnosed because we simply don’t have another diagnosis to give? Yes, probably. So why don’t you write about the real cause? The overwhelming shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists and psychologist? The non-existent research into childhood psychological conditions?

I have three children, Doctor Azerrad. One is, unfortunately, on powerful psychopharmaceutical medication. We resisted meds for a long time, assuming he was just a spirited child, working with occupational therapists and psychologists in talk and play therapy. Unfortunately, however, after years and years of this, we had to go with medication. My son has Schizoaffective Disorder. Oh – my other two children? Willful? Yes. Spirited? Yes. Medicated? No, of course not. They’re just teenagers.

Trust me – no one WANTS to medicate their child. If you were a practicing child and adolescent psychologist, you’d know that, first hand.

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  • KSorl April 4, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    I agree and disagree. Chrisa, parents like you are exactly as you said. Unfortunately, I'm finding that there's a segment of society who prefer to medicate their children into submission. I know of two so-called "parents" who do that. These people are those who will use the system in any way possible and watching these kids is heart-breaking. And there's nothing that can be done… because the "parent" knows how to work it.
    This kills me on two ends: one-I'm seeing children have the life sucked from them whenever their meds kick in and worry about them in the future. Can medication when there is no issue cause mental illness in the future?
    Two – using state resources to help kids who don't need it takes away from those who truly do.

    So, I firmly believe that a segment of our society truly is exactly what the doctor wrote. Additionally, there are parents like you who do care and who are exactly what you wrote.

  • Chrisa April 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Ky, have you met them? Have you seen it?

    I'd recommend you read Judith Warner's book. She thought exactly as you state. And couldn't find an example.

  • lynn April 4, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    you go, woman! what an ass! he should visit my house for a couple of days. i HATE blanket statements! who the hell would do what we do if our kids were just spirited? i raised 4 children who are now adults and of course could be a pain sometimes. of course i did not medicate them! my children i am raising now would have NO quality of life without medications. idiot.

  • picklesprincess April 5, 2011 at 12:10 am

    As always Chrisa, thank you for speaking out on this. Do I want my 6 year old on Depakote, Zyprexa…or the 17 previous meds she has been on? Hell no! (pardon my language) But it was the only option to keep my Pickles from hurting herself. Am I a lazy parent? I'd like to think not. I spend hours, upon hours, upon hours trying to find anything and everything to help her with the horrors she lives with in her head.

    I agree with lynn. I'd like this "doctor" to spend 48 hours with Pickles. How about we start tomorrow?

  • Chrisa April 5, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Of course I don't mind – I think it's fabulous!! I'm running right over there to read it now.

  • Nancy April 5, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I agree with you Chrisa. However, I DID live in a country overseas and when my 10 year old was going to "outdoor school" for 3 days I was really surprised. Why? I showed up at 8 am, with all of his stuff and saw a few kids playing by the bus and a HUGE line-up of other kids. I hustled him into the line-up thinking it was some sort of check in. Nope. It was the line-up for handing over medications. No word of a lie, it must have been 70 percent of the 3 classes going. This was all meds: antihistimines, over the counter stuff, etc. I guess my point is that I was really surprised to see so many kids that had routine daily meds.

    However, I think to insinuate that people put their kids on strong anti-psychotic medicine rather than using "time-outs" etc. is asinine. It really is insulting to the parents of children struggling with mental illness.

    This "doctor" is obviously going for "shock" value and to get a reaction. You have to admit though, that the parents on supernanny are usually pretty clueless. There are extremes on either end of the spectrum, but you are right to point out that the vast majority of parents that are in a daily struggle are hardly comparable to some mother on supernanny that needs to grab a clue about parenting techniques. Not even in the same ballpark.

    I would be interested to hear a reply if you one.

  • Chrisa April 5, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Nancy:

    I watched a few episodes of Supernanny and giggled at the parents and the kids, and how some structure and rules whipped them in to place. I agree, those parents seemed either overwhelmed, clueless, or a bit of both.

    But not once did I see Supernanny suggest the kids needed meds.

  • A April 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    The "dr" obviously forgot one tiny, cultural fact.

    Many Asian cultures hide any person with any type of disability. Period. You don't see them and they don't talk about them.

    When we lived abroad we had a driver that was with our family 6 days a week, all day. He spoke a lot of his family and his life. Imagine our suprise when a year later he actually brought his family to a family function and he had a daughter he had only mentioned once in all this time. We never knew her name. She had Downs Syndrome and was kept home 24/7. It was a great honor for him to let us meet her. But she was only allowed to greet us, bow, and then they took her away again.

    When a culture treats people with disabilities as personas non gratas, well, then society doesn't have problems – until you go behind closed doors.

    I wonder how many sufffer alone treated only with shame.


  • KSorl April 6, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Hi Chrisa – yes, unfortunately, I have met them, have been part of the extended families for years. I've known the kids since they were toddlers and have watched them grow. Perhaps that's why I agree and disagree. I used to believe that parents were like you – concerned for the kids and striving to do better than the best for them. Sadly, I've seen things this past year that would infuriate you. As our state gets ready for huge cuts in mental health and I see two different families with a parent who is wasting the money that could be going to someone with real need. I never thought I'd say I could see with my eyes and experiences how some would treat their children. Medicate into a stupor so they didn't have to deal with them – and yes, that is the truth for some parents out there. Different segments of society – perhaps maybe Munchhausen's by proxy, but either way, it is the children being hurt. I could chat offline with you about it, but I hope you know me well enough to know that I wouldn't make a statement without the experience. It is not an opinion per se – just these people do exist. And yes, I also know others like you, who truly care and would do everything possible for their child(ren), making agonizing choices sometimes but still advocating for the mental health needs.
    As to whether the doctor is going for shock value – yes – the article could have been written without his bias. I'm just saying that there are people out there that he describes… and yes, I do cry about that sometimes….

  • marythemom April 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    One aspect that hasn't been mentioned is that if someone has a genetic predisposition to mental illness (like bipolar disorder), it can be triggered or have an earlier onset by trauma/stress and abuse. Just like overcrowded rats becoming more psychotic, I think our society is becoming a pressure cooker. We don't automatically throw teens in jail or lock them up in mental institutions anymore. Instead we mainstream them and inflict them on others. I'm not saying mainstreaming is bad, but my adopted son has major behavior issues and is pretty scary, even on the enormous crapload of meds he takes.

    The school keeps putting my emotionally disturbed kids in situations that they are not emotionally able to handle. I cannot make their school environment less stressful, so they are probably on more meds than they might need if they're life were less stressful.

    Bipolar runs strongly in my family (although my kids diagnosed with bipolar are adopted). My grandfather's many brothers all hid their issues (because of the stigma) and all 5 of the male siblings ended up committing suicide. My mom hid her disorder as much as she could as well and didn't seek treatment until she was in her late 30s and by then my sister and I had grown up with a mentally unstable parent. No one talked about or treated mental illness. Doesn't mean it didn't exist. Doesn't mean they wouldn't have done better with medication. Also, untreated rages and storms do damage to the brain.

    diagnosed Bipolar II
    mom to 2 adopted children diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, brain damage…
    2 bio kids, the oldest (14) is starting to show signs of adolescent-onset bipolar.