Archives for Children


How Lena Dunham’s real-life OCD made it onto Girls

How closely does a writer's work mimic her life experiences? It's a perennial question made all the more irresistible as it pertains to Lena Dunham,  the 26-year-old creator of one of TV's most talked-about shows, and her recently-revealed history of  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

In the first season of HBO's Girls, Dunham stirred up debate by, among other things, repeatedly revealing her less-than-perfect body while playing the show's main character, Hannah Horvath. What got people talking as the second season progressed, though, was how serious the show seemed to be getting, especially with its depiction of Hannah coping with a resurgence of her OCD symptoms.

Critics, fans, mental illness activists and patients have largely praised the Girls' depiction of OCD, which they've hailed as convincing and nuanced, but agonizing to watch. One writer and self-described former OCD patient called it "some of the darkest, most difficult material with which Girls has wrestled to date," lauding the show for avoiding the temptation to turn OCD into a mere joke.

The fact that Dunham revealed in a March cover story for Rolling Stone that she's struggled with OCD since childhood - and taken medication for it on and off - gave the topic more buzz. (I discussed what she revealed-and what she didn't-here).

In a HBO behind-the-scenes look at one of the episodes, Dunham disclosed a little more about the connection between her experience and the show's representation of Hannah's OCD - though she didn't go into specifics.

For those looking for a more direct comparison, here's a look about what Dunham has said about her own experiences with OCD symptoms and treatment - and how they compare to Hannah's.
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Atypical Antipsychotics

Too Early To Link Sandy Hook Shooting With Psych Meds

Tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary aren't just agonizing and heart-wrenching for millions of people - they're frustrating.

We keep asking ourselves "how?" and "why?" And, with authorities still trying to piece together evidence, the public has to make do with limited - and often incorrect - information.

First came reports that the shooter, Adam Lanza, might have Asperger's. To my knowledge, no authoritative source has yet confirmed Lanza had a formal diagnosis of that or any other emotional, behavioral or developmental condition.

But that lack of evidence - as well as expert consensus that Asperger's was extremely unlike to have triggered a shooting rampage - didn't stop an army of commentators from weighing in.

Now, comes the speculation about whether Lanza might have a history of taking mood or behavior-altering medication.

Don't get me wrong, here. I'm not blaming journalists, bloggers, pundits, Twitter users, and the general public from wondering if Lanza might be taking psychiatric meds.

In fact, it's one of the first questions that came to my mind - even before I heard the reports of his possible Asperger's.

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The Challenge: Tracking Your Medication History

Ever have a hard time remembering to take your meds regularly? Now try tallying up all the psychiatric meds you've ever taken, their dosages and side effects. It's harder than you might assume - especially as time goes on.

When I was interviewing my peers for my book about growing up taking psychiatric meds, I started with what I thought was a basic question: Can you give me your medication history - which meds you've taken in the past, and for how long?

I was shocked at how many people couldn't answer the question with any confidence.
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ADHD drugs

Study Finds Autistic Kids With Psychiatric Disorders More Likely To Be Medicated

Many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) take psychotropic medications to treat associated symptoms of their conditions, such as irritability and anxiety. Usage has increased in recent years, and some recent studies have questioned the evidence base supporting the drugs' effectiveness in young people with ASD.

A new study, published in a supplement to the November issue of Pediatrics, suggests that coexisting psychiatric conditions and problem behaviors might...
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Can You Be Too Attuned to Symptoms and Side Effects?

Doctors and mental health professionals have long encouraged patients to keep track of their moods and behaviors to gauge how they respond to psychiatric treatment.

With the explosion of mobile apps and websites such as PatientsLikeMe, which help people chart symptoms, medications and side effects, we've entered a new era of unprecedented medical self-monitoring.

Is this a good thing when it comes to psychiatric medications and mental health?
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Can Meds Transform Mental Illness Into Mental Health?

Today is World Mental Health Day, and I've been thinking a lot about the terms "mental health" and "mental illness" ever since reading a recent post post on the topic by blogger Natasha Tracy.

Natasha contends that using the politically-correct, cheerier-sounding term "mental health" trivializes psychiatric disorders and ends up shortchanging those who suffer from mental illness. That got me thinking again about a question I've often pondered: Can long-term, maintenance treatment with psychiatric medication take someone with a "mental illness" and restore him or her to "mental health?"

The answer isn't as obvious as it might seem.
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Waiting Until You’re “Old Enough” for Antidepressants

What's it like to suffer from severe depression for as long as you can remember - and to be too scared to ask for help until age 18?

Today I’m featuring the story of Allie, a 21-year-old college senior in Wisconsin who was ultimately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Allie kept her unhappiness a secret and didn't begin taking medication when she was old enough to ask for it without her parents finding out.

Allie's story is interesting, because it shows how kids can suffer from severe depression from a very young age. It also shows how in a culture where psychiatric drugs seem ubiquitous kids can come to focus on medication as a source of salvation.

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ADHD drugs

Medicating Class Cut-Ups But Overlooking the Rest

This weekend a mother published a New York Times column about how her son came to be diagnosed with ADHD and became a member of the ballooning "Ritalin Generation."

"Just a little medication," the teacher told the boy's mother, "could really turn things around" for the boy, who was having trouble focusing on class worksheets and lining up quietly for transitions between classes.

When the mother firmly responded that she and her husband weren't going to medicate their son, the teacher backtracked, sounding mock-horrified.

She wasn't explicitly suggesting medication, she said. The law prohibited such a thing. She just didn't want him to fall through the cracks - and thus was was merely suggesting the boy's parents have him evaluated by a psychologist.

The boy was evaluated, and sure enough, he ended up on Ritalin for a short-time, though he quit it on his own a year later, matured out of his former inattentiveness, and eventually ended up a well-adjusted, school-loving honor-roll student - and medication-free.

Such stories are commonly invoked as cautionary tales about the alleged over-diagnosis of ADHD and other behavior disorders and over-prescribing of drugs like Ritalin to keep children's behavior in check. Teachers recommending meds for disruptive students often feature prominently. In fact, the debate over school involvement in medicating disruptive children showed up as early as the early 1970s.
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How Psych Drug Studies Shortchange Kids

For years, researchers and health policy experts have been charging that psychiatric medications aren't adequately tested in children - and a new study gives some powerful ammunition to that critique.

The study, from Pediatrics, looked at clinical drug trials between 2006 and 2011, involving five conditions that cause the greatest "disease burden" for children, as measured by a rating that counts the total years of healthy life lost to disability.

In high-income countries like the United States, three of the five conditions with the highest disease burden among kids were psychiatric disorders: depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

But of the drug studies to treat those conditions, disproportionately few involved children.

The lack of trials is troubling because children and adults don't necessarily respond to medication in the same way. With psychiatric drugs, that's a potential problem both for physical reasons - and for psychological and developmental ones.
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