Mind Institute Qatar Mental Health Services. Psychotherapy

Hugs over Drugs: How our society’s over prescribing affects our children.

In a recent article Generation Adderall by Casey Schwartz in The New York Times Magazine.  Schwartz painfully recounts her experience as an Adderall addict going from an anxious teenager to a high performing Brown University student to a freelance writer who couldn’t function without amphetamine.  The article was so powerful and upsetting for me as a psychoanalyst and parent guidance expert.  In my private practice as a psychoanalyst, the increase in mental health issues in young children, adolescents and young adults has been something I’m on the front line of dealing with. This  rising tide drove me to write my book, Being There; Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters, all about what we can do about it as mothers and as a society.

I found Ms. Schwartz’s voice compelling as a young woman who was too easily diagnosed with ADHD when she was young, who resisted uncovering the origins and deeper meaning of her symptoms when older, who got trapped on the psycho-pharmacological merry go round of medication handed out too young, too easily and without recognition of the long term consequences. 

The fact that we live in a society that would rather medicate away our symptoms than think about or be reflective on the causes as Ms. Schwartz says in her article “I knew enough about psychology to avoid the psychoanalysts who would want to go deep and talk to me for weeks and maybe months about why I felt I needed chemical enhancement – no I couldn’t turn to them.”  The need in our society for immediate gratification and lack of introspection or reflection is sadly implied in this articulate young woman’s recounting of her experience. 

We have a mental health crisis in our country with millions of children on psycho-pharmacological medications for disorders of emotional regulation and we don’t even want to know why it is happening, we just want to fix the symptoms and make them go away.  It is time to stop superficially addressing symptoms and look at what I consider to be the real problem which is how our children have become increasingly fragile emotionally and lack the resilience to stress and the ability to regulate their own emotions.  

Our ability by Psychotherapy to regulate our emotions, or as Ms. Schwartz refers to as emotional homeostasis is not something we are born with, but rather something we learn from the earliest interactions with our mothers or primary caregivers.  Neuroscience and Epigenetics research has now shown us that whatever genetic proclivity a child may have toward emotional sensitivity that would incline them toward mental illness can be neutralized by a sensitive and nurturing mother or primary caregiver who spends her days in the first three years buffering her child from stress, regulating her emotions from moment to moment and only slowly introducing frustration that a child can manage or cope with thereby increasing that child’s emotional security and ability to tolerate stress.

Research has also shown that when a child, adolescent or adult enters into psychodynamic or reflective psychotherapy that provides nurturing, empathy and insight into an individual’s emotional needs, only then can the process of interrupted development of the ability to regulate emotions take place.  The right brain which is responsible for emotional regulation and whose development may have been disrupted in childhood actually starts to develop again.

So what does this say about our nation that we are medicating away our social and relational problems and putting our children at great risk for addiction not to mention a lifetime of pain and suffering and possible long term neurological consequences we have yet to uncover.  When we avoid pain in the present by medicating it away rather than looking at the relationships that may be causing it we may only be deferring that pain to a later date in which case the intensity of the pain is greater.


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