The news is startling. The New York Times reports:
Almost 20,000 prescriptions for risperidone (commonly known as Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel) and other antipsychotic medications were written in 2014 for children 2 and younger, a 50 percent jump from 13,000 just one year before, according to the prescription data company IMS Health. Prescriptions for the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) rose 23 percent in one year, to about 83,000.
Through adolescence, our brains and bodies change in ways science has only just begun to understand. But infants’ brains and nervous systems change so rapidly that development can be measured not in years or months, but in weeks. How can we know with any certainty that anti-psychotic medications aren’t negatively altering infants’ and children’s development in dramatic ways?
So, why are some doctors prescribing anti-psychotic medications to babies?
Not all doctors agree that giving psychiatric medicines to young children is an appropriate treatment strategy.
Dr. Martha Herbert PhD, MD, of Harvard Medical School, and author of The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be says “Increasing rates of antipsychotics for very young children may cause side effects short and long term – but with an aggressive lifestyle upgrade strategy (whole food (organic when possible), reduce toxic exposures, time management/overload reduction) kids can do a lot better and avoid such extreme measures.”
We believe that in general, psychiatric illnesses can’t be correctly diagnosed in infants and very young children; it’s difficult enough to achieve accurate diagnoses in adults. As we wrote awhile ago in our post, Why Therapists Do Evaluations “…shockingly different diagnoses can be given by different psychotherapists—there is an amount of subjectivity involved on the one hand, on the other, excellent diagnostic skills do take a while to refine…”
We also know that diagnosis are key to getting insurance reimbursements and psychiatrists and other, non-medical mental health professionals, are generally required to write a diagnosis. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is the bible of psychiatric diagnosis. However, there have been and still are struggles with and questions about, the manual.
French psychiatrist Patrick Landman discussed the new DSM-5 this time last year and said “…saying that the DSM-5 will lead to over-diagnosis and over-medicalization of forms of behavior which for the longest time have been perceived as part of normal human variation (such as mourning) and that the DSM-5 will trigger new false epidemics and lead to inappropriate drug prescriptions which may turn out to be dangerous (especially in children) has nothing whatsoever to do with anti-psychiatry but rather accords with common sense and … yes, the defense of psychiatry.”
Can Babies Be Psychotic?
Also with infants, young children, adolescents, and even adults, there are so many factors that must be ruled out/taken into account when diagnosing mental illness. As Dr. Herbert suggested above, lifestyle changes often lead to great improvement in emotional/mental symptoms. These changes can also bring about positive changes in the mental and physical health of all family members.
We’re not anti-psychiatric medication. We have seen it save lives. However, we believe the appearance of symptoms that seem to indicate a mental/emotional illness, whether in adults or children, should be very carefully and expertly evaluated and whatever the diagnosis, a variety of dietary, environmental, behavioral, spiritual, and other lifestyle changes can and should be implemented, whether medication is indicated or not.
For younger children (and even older children) and babies, we simply don’t know enough about diagnosing, and the long-term effects to growing brains and bodies, to feel comfortable about prescribing psychiatric medications.