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Internet Meme Demolition Derby: Childhood is not a Disease!

Crash… boom… bang…screeeeech! It’s Internet Meme Demolition Derby time!  Let’s get right to the action this week folks. Cruising into the arena propelled by the powerful combination of self righteous judgmental criticism of kids that are troubled or different and a blinkered, ignorant suspicion of the medical establishment tied together with a paranoid tendency towards conspiracy mongering and topped with a heaping helping of the naturalistic fallacy its… (drumroll….) CHILDHOOD IS NOT A DISEASE!!!!!

Adulthood is not the cure.

 

Look at that folks. That is one powerful Internet Meme. Lets start smashing it to bits shall we? To the Google Machine!

First of all, let me point out that (unfortunately), the Year of Our Lord Voldemort Nineteen Hundred and Eighty was THIRTY FOUR YEARS AGO! This makes me sad for several reasons, not the least of which is that I remember 1980 (vaguely). And there are a couple of my fellow bloggers here who weren’t even born in 1980. So thanks a lot stupid Internet Meme for reminding me how fucking old I am. Way to start things off on the right foot.You’ve already angried up me blood!

Our meme features three images, arranged in 2 columns. On the left is 1980, the right is 2014. We’ll take them in order.

  1. Bored looking little white girl stares out the window, obviously missing the important lesson being delivered by her hardworking teacher. In 1980 this would be “daydreaming”, as well as a paddling offense. In 2014 we instead send the little tyke to the pediatrician who hops her up on Ritalin because she has ADD/ADHD which is obviously a made up disorder invented by to swindle money from hardworking insurance companies into the coffers of Big Pharma.
  2. Screaming teen girl screams at us. Back in 1980 we could safely assume that screaming teen girl was simply a under the effect of “hormones”. I’m not sure if we are expected to think “teenage puberty rage inducing hormones” or “female problem that time of the month rage inducing hormones”. I guess it depends on whether the viewer wanted to be sexist or ageist. Now, in the 21st century, we know that the poor girl is “bipolar” and of course there are drugs for that as well.
  3. Boy in blue shirt sits on picnic table, stares off into distance, oblivious to the two young women nearby, one of whom is pretending to pinch his butt. In 1980 we label this kid a loner and treat him accordingly. If I remember correctly treatment involved a lot of bullying, shaming and shunning. Of course nowadays we coddle these little punks and treat them for “depression”. Pussies.

 

Doing a Google Image Search for these memes can be very informative. If we are lucky we can track down who made the original and glean a bit about their motives from the rest of their internet presence. Or it could just lead to a place like 9GAG.com, which is essentially a clearing house for stuff lifted from other websites. Like Upworthy, but with even less class. But even without the originator, our image search does reveal who is sharing the meme a lot. Like the certified medical experts at healinghandsmassages.com, who tell us ” Before drugs therapy became the norm we actually used play, church, and family interaction as “therapy”. Or Facebook group and libertarian nut-hatchery The Rabbit Hole, who opine in connection to this meme;

Who’s gone crazy in America, our children or our doctors? Some of the numbers are staggering. American children are about three times more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medication than children in Europe. We use 90% of the worlds Ritalin supply. Almost 1/5 of all high school boys have a diagnosis of ADHD. In America nearly 30 percent of all children from 10 to 19, take at least one prescription to treat a chronic condition. The FDA has approved medicating children as young as 3 years old for Bipolar disease. WTF? How can you diagnose a child that age with Bipolar disease? Medication should be a last resort but it’s all to often the first choice. Big Pharma looks at your children as a growing market and doctors look at them like a billing code. Instead of over analyzing every single behavior a child has, why don’t we listen to them instead? Please watch this video made by a child in this predicament, see how he feels about it.
(the associated video is no longer available… which is weird because the facebook post was only made march 25th, 2014… perhaps taken down by BIG PHARMA?)

So the thrust of our meme appears to be a reaction to the alleged alarming rise in the prescription of drugs to treat problems like ADHD, Bipolar Disorder (not disease), and Depression in young people. So is this even true? Certainly the general rise in diagnoses of childhood ADHD is a real thing. This Alternet piece by Alex Kane seems to confirm the “one in five High School boys” statistic”. From the article:

There are some doctors and advocates for patients who welcome the rise in numbers, and say that it is a result of the disorder being recognized better. But others who are critics of how children receive the diagnosis say that “the new rates suggest that millions of children may be taking medication merely to calm behavior or to do better in school,” according to the New York Times. The resort to medication for those who do not need it is particularly dangerous, as the drugs are rife with risks.

Which sounds pretty scary, although the reporter does note in passing that; “There are some doctors and advocates for patients who welcome the rise in numbers, and say that it is a result of the disorder being recognized better. ”

What about bipolar disorder? I found this 4/8/2010 article in Psychiatric Times entitled “Psychiatric Diagnosis Gone Wild: The “Epidemic” Of Childhood Bipolar Disorder.” in which Allen Frances, MD writes;

  When I began psychiatric training 40 years ago, we were not taught anything about childhood Bipolar Disorder. There was no point–it was so rare that no one had seen any cases. I once evaluated a 9-year-old boy whose symptoms seemed vaguely bipolar, but my supervisor told me to stop searching for the exotic. In the old days, we were undoubtedly missing many cases and withholding helpful treatment. But the pendulum has now swung wildly in the other direction.

To become a fad, a psychiatric diagnosis requires 3 preconditions: a pressing need, an engaging story, and influential prophets. The pressing need arises from the fact that disturbed and disturbing kids are very often encountered in clinical, school, and correctional settings. They suffer and cause suffering to those around them–making themselves noticeable to families, doctors, and teachers. Everyone feels enormous pressure to do something. Previous diagnoses (especially conduct or oppositional disorder) provided little hope and no call to action. In contrast, a diagnosis of childhood Bipolar Disorder creates a justification for medication and for expanded school services. The medications have broad and nonspecific effects that are often helpful in reducing anger, even if the diagnosis is inaccurate.

Ouch… the meme is looking better and better. It’s withstanding Google search after Google search!  They seem to have the experts on their side. What about depression? Christopher Lane, Ph.D, writing in his Side Effects column at Psychology Today in 2011 highlights a Fox News report;

Commentary on Fox News (not my usual media outlet, but Google News had highlighted the article) warned: “Americans are being aggressively over-diagnosed and have become too sensitive to minor health problems… There is an avalanche of patients that for one reason or another have been diagnosed with depression or alleged depression. And it is far too easy to go to any physician and get a prescription for any type of antidepressant.”

Lane laid the blame at the feet of the  DSM-IV criteria for things like ADHD and Social Anxiety Disorder being too broa

d and predicted the situation getting even worse with the release of DSM-V in 2013.

So are the massage healers and Liberturkey alarmists on the side of the angels on this one? Do we have our very first survivor of the I.M.D.D.? Not so fast folks, lets hear from the other side. Hannah Seligson, writing for the Daily Beast in March, 2010, spotlighted the book “We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.” By Judith Warner. Like many of us, Warner initially sought to confirm the prevailing notion that our kids were being pushed too many pills and was in fact quite surprised to find the case less compelling than she had expected, for instance

When she began writing her book, almost five years ago, she came to it thinking the narratives the media had spun about children and medication were true: Parents were trying to “perfect” their children through various cocktails of medications; doctors were going prescription-happy; and kids who occasionally got sad were being labeled “depressed.”

“Those assumptions, however, weren’t borne out by clinicians, parents, children, or statistics,” says Warner, who did lots of research to support her thesis.

 

and…

We’ve Got Issues spotlights a bigger problem: the lack of medical care for many children with mental issues. With an overwhelmed mental-health industry—there are only 7,000 child psychiatrists in the U.S., mostly concentrated in urban areas—those who need help often don’t get it. Mental-health issues have been portrayed as a bourgeois malady because that is the only segment of our population that can afford to have them. The full battery of tests to get a diagnosis costs about $2,000, which insurance companies often do not reimburse. Warner takes a stab at offering some policy solutions, including a clarion call for insurance companies to reimburse families for diagnostic tests and to increase the number of child psychiatrists.

I really recommend reading the entire article, as both Warner and Seligson do a better job than I, or even the experts, can do communicating the issues. It’s almost like journalism is some sort of profession that some people are really good at.

The overmedicated and overdiagnosed child, Warner argues, is a media embellishment. And it’s become an obsession and storyline that eclipses the realities.

I like that term “embellishment”. I think it really communicates the problem well. Yes there are certainly issues with the appropriate diagnoses of mental health issues in young people. And there is some issue with overprescribed medications. However the all out panic expressed by some critics seems over the top as well. It’s almost as if real life is complicated and nuanced and therefore hard to sum up in one pithy image with some text.

So where does that put us? Do we have a tie? A meme enters the derby and comes out scuffed but largely intact?

NAHHHH!

Because the creators of “Childhood is not a Disease” are pretty obviously being massive douchebags! The meme doesn’t express alarm about the overmedication  of our youth. This meme pretty much straight up implies that ADHD, Bipolar Disorder and Teenage Depression are just MADE UP! Back in the 1980’s they didn’t exist. I don’t think I’m exaggerating here, that’s almost exactly what the meme says, and it’s a complete and total falsehood. Attention Deficit Disorder  was first diagnosed in the 19th Century, and was listed as ADD with or without Hyperactivity in the DSM-III in 1980. Bipolar Disorder was first recognized by Chinese authors in the 16th Century CE and was being treated with lithium by the 1960’s. And as far as I’m concerned, teenage depression was never something to make light of. According to the Source of All Knowledge:

About 8% of children and adolescents suffer from depression.[3] Research suggests that the prevalence of young depression sufferers in Western cultures ranges from 1.9% to 3.4% among primary school children and 3.2% to 8.9% among adolescents.[4] Studies have also found that among children diagnosed with a depressive episode, there is a 70% rate of recurrence within five years.[4] Furthermore, 50% of children with depression will have a recurrence at least once during their adulthood.[5] While there is no gender difference in depression rates up until age fifteen, after that age the rate among women doubles compared to men. However, in terms of recurrence rates and symptom severity, there is no gender difference.[6] In an attempt to explain these findings, one theory asserts that pre-adolescent women, on average, have more risk factors for depression than men. These risk factors then combine with the typical stresses and challenges of adolescent development to trigger the onset of depression.[7]

Beyond that, the meme  pretends that things were somehow better for kids back in the good old days of the 80’s. That is HILARIOUS I lived through the fucking 80’s. See that kid on the picnic table? That could have been me. And you know what they did with kids who exhibited signs of depression, distraction or mood swings back in the 1980’s? They treated them like SHIT! Couldn’t concentrate in class? Must be stupid. Can’t control your emotional responses? Just hormones, all kids get through those. Depressed and lonely, finding it hard to fit in? Stop being such a dweeb or drama queen. Tough love was the prescription in 1980 with an emphasis on TOUGH.

Am I taking this personally. Fuck yeah I’m taking this personally. I’m 45 years old and was only this past year (2013 for you time travelers) diagnosed with ADHD and Panic Disorder, as well as mild Generalized Anxiety. Talk therapy with my psychologist leads us to the hypothesis that I have been dealing with ADHD for most of my life and that helps to explain a great deal of the difficulties I encountered throughout my youth, as well as leading to a tendency towards alcohol abuse in my adult life. One can’t help but wonder how different things might have been if my problem had been diagnosed 30 years ago.

So yeah… Fuck You “Childhood is not a Disease” meme, for reducing a complicated issue into a misleading bite of fluff, for perpetuating the rose tinted nostalgia for the wretched 1980’s, for being sexist, ageist and generally awful towards the subjects of your supposed concern. Get the fuck out of my arena.

Featured Image Credit: Philip Kromer, Austin Texas (from Wikimedia Commons)

Have you found an Internet Meme deserving of destruction? Drop a link in the comments, use our contact form, or tweet us at @groundedparents or me @blotzphoto. I’m also interested in any good parenting memes you might come across. Because this shit is getting a little depressing…

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Lou Doench

Lou Doench

Lou Doench is a 48 year old father of three. Twelve years ago he married the coolest woman in the world and gave up the lucrative career of being a photography student to become a stay at home husband and Dad, or SAHD. An atheist geek, or a geeky atheist if you prefer, Lou likes reading, photography, video gaming, disc golf, baseball and Dr. Who. He has been playing Dungeons and Dragons since 1976. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also an excellent home cook, not that his children would know because they only eat Mac & Cheese. Follow Lou on Twitter @blotzphoto or check out his photography at www.flickr.com/photos/blotz/

8 Comments

  1. April 13, 2014 at 3:05 am —

    “In contrast, a diagnosis of childhood Bipolar Disorder creates a justification for medication and for expanded school services. The medications have broad and nonspecific effects that are often helpful in reducing anger, even if the diagnosis is inaccurate.”
    That’s like “maybe bipolar is not actually the most accurate diagnosis, but the treatment sure as hell helps those kids and their caregivers”, right?
    There are definitely issues, there are bad apples. Surpise, surprise. Which means we must fight that like in every other area of medicine. For example, Germany changed regulations so that only actual specialists could diagnose and medicate those disorders, because for a while every paediatrician who only ever got their information from the pharmaceutical industry and popular media was deemed qualified. That’s a good thing in the best interest of patients, and it damn well doesn’t mean that thise conditions don’t exist and should not be treated.

    • April 14, 2014 at 9:26 am —

      I wonder how many kids in the “over-prescribed” population never actually see a specialist at all, not even a pediatrician. I know that in the States, with “the best medical care in the world (puke)” the closest thing to a pediatrician a disadvantaged kid sees is the school nurse or the emergency room doctor.

  2. April 13, 2014 at 3:16 pm —

    Childhood itself isn’t a disease, but childhood diseases and illnesses do occur, which is what the creators and purveyors of this meme are denying. This is a dangerous stance to take. I, too, grew up in the 80’s and remember very well that the treatment for emotional outbursts was usually a visit with the principal’s paddle and widespread social shunning/stigma. You know what doesn’t help a depressed teenager who self harms and has suicidal ideation? Telling them they have a character flaw and need to toughen up or they’ll get a beating.

    • April 14, 2014 at 9:30 am —

      “childhood diseases and illnesses do occur,”
      Yeah, to the kind of people cheering on this meme (ie douchnozzles), mental illness isn’t a disease, it is either a correctable character flaw or a cartoonish mental defect that can only be treated with institutionalization. If you aren’t bad enough to be in the loony bin then you should be fine. If you aren’t then it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough.

  3. April 13, 2014 at 4:41 pm —

    My wife was exhibiting signs of depression at a very young age, such as being pleased that not everyone married so that it was ok that she would inevitably die alone. Medication in college is part of why she’s still around today. Sure, there’s probably some overdiagnosis and overmedication going on, but there’s also a lot more understanding of how this stuff works and is awful for those of us who have these sorts of problems.

    • April 14, 2014 at 9:33 am —

      Glad to know your wife got the help she needed (belatedly). Seeing a specialist has had a huge effect on my quality of life despite how long it took to get there. Heads up folks, it;s never too late to ask for help.

  4. April 20, 2014 at 11:46 am —

    These memes make me all stabby. I call them out whenever I see them. My son had ADHD. If these people would spend 1 day with him off his meds they would see how much he needs them. Before meds he would regularly clothesline his (barely walking) baby brother, call me awful names, make non-stop machine gun noises, hit people at school, and generally be one of the most unpleasant kids you’ve ever met. (most of the time anyway) It was making everyone in our house miserable, including him. The meds aren’t perfect. He seems to be an outlier who the meds work for for a little while, then they need to be changed up. (I hear this is not normal. great.) Getting meds weren’t easy either. They make you fill out forms and have evaluations and meet with doctors. It’s not easy. None of it is easy. Thanks for the post. I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets pissed off when sanctimonious assholes post that shit.

    • April 21, 2014 at 12:17 pm —

      I have a gf with similar problems with meds that stop working after awhile. She says it’s hard. I think in some cases after long enough she has been able to go back to some of them for a period of time.

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