Happily Slipping Into Our Straightjackets

By Karen Hunt 03/17/17

The manufacture and dissemination of drugs is an accepted industry, generating billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies without any concern for the long-term consequences on the human guinea pigs: our children.

Image: 
A cartoon of a man in a straightjacket with a heart in a speech bubble
Little ADHD pills don't seem like straight jackets--but they are.

As a single mother who has raised three kids on the “mean” streets of Los Angeles suburbia, and as a writer who co-founded a creative writing program for incarcerated youth, I’ve heard countless drug-related stories told by children, both inside juvenile detention facilities and rehab centers, and outside in my own neighborhood.

Here is a small selection of the voices I have heard and some thoughts on the government-sanctioned drugging of our children. I’m not saying there aren’t extreme cases where it’s necessary to medicate children, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Jimmy was an ordinary 16-year-old kid living in the exclusive Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas. He was 12 years old when he was prescribed Ritalin for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

“It was creepy,” he said. “I could totally just sit in my chair and stare at the teacher for hours and I could hear every single word, like in slow motion. That’s how it is—you can concentrate on stupid tasks but you’re not really there inside yourself. It’s as if something else is controlling you. It was horrible. I started pretending to take my pills but wouldn’t.”

Jimmy had reason to be distracted and depressed. His older sister committed suicide in the mansion his family inhabited. Jimmy couldn’t bear to be in that haunted house, no matter how deceptively beautiful it appeared on the outside.

Jimmy was best friends with my oldest son. The first time my son got into trouble was at the Calabasas Commons, on the one-year anniversary of Jimmy’s sister’s death. Some other kid had been making fun of her and my son beat him up. I remember rushing down to pick my son up the moment I received the phone call from the Commons security guards.

They were surprised to see me. “Most parents around here wouldn’t interrupt their important dinner, or whatever, to pick up their child.”

Jimmy ended up camping on the sofa of our small apartment for the next two years.

“So what happens with all the drugs kids are supposed to be taking?” I asked him.

He eyed me like I was dense. “Didn’t those doctors think about what would happen when they dumped a ton of fucking drugs on us? Eight-year-olds, six-year-olds—they trade pills then start selling them. Little drug dealers growing up to be corporate monsters.”

The manufacture and dissemination of drugs to the general population is an accepted industry, generating billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies without any concern for the long-term consequences on the human guinea pigs: our children. Academics determine through research funded by drug companies that the public is suffering from myriad mental diseases. Psychiatrists, in turn, prescribe the medications developed by the drug companies. A tidy circle of profit ensues.

Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer at the division of medical ethics at Harvard School of Medicine and former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, states that “there is fairly good evidence that the research has been tainted because of the financial relationships between academic researchers and drug companies.”

Powerful, highly addictive drugs are marketed directly to families through Stepford Wives-like TV and magazine ads, showing smiling, sedated children and their equally smiling and sedated parents, happily ingesting their medication. Just watch Lifetime, where every other ad is pushing a mood-altering medication, complete with a bizarre, creepy little creature following the woman around like something out of the Twilight Zone.

Not long ago I heard one teenage girl telling another, “I don’t wanna be an ‘ad kid.’”

I asked what she meant.

“Oh, you know, those kids who go around school saying ‘I’m on Zoloft, I’m so happy…I’m on Zoloft, I’m so happy.’ I don’t wanna be an ad for a drug company.”

Her friend responded, “Oh yeah, I tried Zoloft. It turned everything gray. The world went gray. I was sick for two days, puking.”

The other morning I was sitting with two girls, 18-year-old Jennifer and 15-year-old Andrea. The topic turned to drugs, as it often does with youth these days. I asked them what they thought was the biggest difference between the drug situation on the opposite ends of the San Fernando Valley, or the SFV: Calabasas and Pacoima. Which had a bigger drug problem?

They shrugged. “You can get drugs anywhere. There’s no difference.”

Jennifer laughed. “Actually, I’d say Calabasas is worse.”

For those who don’t know, the SFV, in Los Angeles, is considered by many to be the most culturally diverse suburban area in the United States. At one extreme is Pacoima, the “hood,” while at the other is Calabasas, made famous by the Kardashians and their hideous reality show.

Urban Dictionary has some colorful descriptions of Calabasas. I love this one—short and sweet:

Dante’s forgotten 10th circle of hell.  

Jennifer: “You can get anything there. Everybody’s dad or mom is a doctor or a lawyer or a psychiatrist. Prescription drugs, being mentally sick, going to therapy, it’s just, like, that’s what you do. So everybody’s either taking pills, selling or both. We’re all drug experts, we know how to access info better than our parents. We know which drugs are used for which effect and what the active ingredients are.”

She took a drag off her legal drug of choice—a cigarette. She pointed her cig at me sagely. “The ‘just say no’ campaign turned into ‘just say yes.’ If a psychiatrist says you need to be on meds, you fucking better say yes or you’re in trouble.”

She smirked at a sudden thought. “Or else, you play the system. Like, this is what you do. You go to your therapist and fake something. Like this guy, Brandon. He got grounded for two months and he wanted to get out of it so he starts faking panic attacks. His parents send him to a psychiatrist. He tells the doc, I got something against the number 3, it just freaks me out. The doc says, what do you mean? He says, ‘well, see that open filing cabinet? I’ve been looking at it for the past 20 minutes and it has three folders in it. It’s making me nervous.’ I mean, Brandon just made that up, he didn’t have anything against the number 3. End result? He gets put on medication and he’s been selling it ever since.”

Andrea had been quiet all this time, but now she spoke up. “I don’t fake my problems. I take Wellbutrin for depression and Trazodone for anxiety and anger. I’ve been hospitalized twice, once because I tried to commit suicide. I saved up and took 23 pills at once. They said when they got to me I was two minutes away from being dead.”

If you look up Wellbutrin, it warns that it is approved only for adults 18 years and over. No trials have been conducted in younger children. Andrea, as I said, is 15.

“So what do you think of the meds?” I asked.

“I hate it. I feel like a rat in a cage, an experiment. They put me on something and then, if it doesn’t work, they put me on something else. They don’t know what they’re doing. My adoptive mom had her leg amputated last year and my dad has hepatitis C, so I know I have issues. You can see I’m overweight—hello! I get made fun of. Kids throw food at me; I can’t describe how bad every day of my life is at school. I got anger issues. But nobody helps me deal with it. They just put me on meds.”

What are all these medications and what are the behaviors indicating that a child needs them? The American Psychiatric Association has the unchecked power to convene and create new mental illnesses, which millions of people are then diagnosed with and given medication for. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is over 500 pages long, and lists mental conditions such as “Apathy Disorder,” “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” “Compulsive Buying Disorder,” “Internet Addiction,” and “Relational Disorder.” Where is the end of this?

ADHD is the most widely diagnosed mental disorder amongst children. Here is a perfect description of an ADHD child, one that is likely to send an overwrought parent running to the psychiatrist for medication:

He entered the church, now, with a swarm of clean and noisy boys and girls, proceeded to his seat and started a quarrel with the first boy that came handy. The teacher, a grave, elderly man, interfered; then turned his back a moment and [he] pulled a boy’s hair in the next bench, and was absorbed in his book when the boy turned around; stuck a pin in another boy, presently, in order to hear him say “Ouch!” and got a new reprimand from his teacher. [His] whole class [was] of a pattern — restless, noisy, and troublesome. When they came to recite their lessons, the latter third of the speech was marred by the resumption of fights and other recreations among certain of the bad boys, and by fidgetings and whisperings that extended far and wide. Not one of them knew his verses perfectly, but had to be prompted all along.”

Who is this frightening example of ADHD?

Tom Sawyer, the most loved and idealized example of precocious boyhood behavior in American literature.

Nowadays you can be sure that Tom and his sidekick, Huck Finn, would be incarcerated, constantly evaluated and forced to take powerful meds. All that naturally impulsive inquisitiveness that made Aunt Polly throw up her hands in despair would be destroyed.

Label a child with a mental disorder such as ADHD and “solve the problem” by prescribing pills having the effect of chemically straight-jacketing them.

Hmmm….straightjackets.

Straightjackets were first introduced at the turn of the century, along with electric shock, hosing down, shackles, lobotomy and holes being drilled into brains to relieve “brain pressure.” German physicians gave birth to the idea of mental diseases of the brain, lending credence to the idea of treating it in the same way one might treat a physical disease. Psychiatry and the German State worked together to institutionalize those with “damaged minds,” which is really a form of the elite engineering eugenics on an unsuspecting public.

Dr. Thomas Szasz, author of The Myth of Mental Illness, says, “The evil genius of psychiatry … continues to lie in its ability to convince itself, the legal system, and the public that … there is no conflict between the legitimate interests of the individual and the legitimate interests of the political class in charge of the state.”

Carl Wernicke (1848-1905), a prominent 19th-century German neuropsychiatrist observed, “The medical treatment of [mental] patients began with the infringement of their personal freedom.”

This started with the abuses described above, as well as other “benevolent tortures”—such as frightening patients by throwing them into snake pits, the origin of the term “snake pit” for insane asylum. These horrific restraints were precursors to the current drugs.

The methods of restraint are now so much more humane than in the past: little pills. And because they are little pills and we have been convinced we need to take them, people willingly give in to being constrained by them.

It doesn’t seem like a straightjacket.

But it is.

Certainly, when medicated, the child appears quieter and sits still in a chair for hours on end, something that our school system demands. But the child isn’t being more attentive. The child is zoned out, robbed of their innate wild energy. Because, after all, what child in his or her right mind should want to, or be forced to, sit for hours every day in a chair doing rote paperwork and being given countless standardized tests to evaluate success or failure? What child should want to daily enter an institution surrounded by gates and high walls, policed by drug dogs and security guards?

Young children must adhere to a rigid schedule of “learning.” Anything not on the approved schedule, even such natural acts as going to the bathroom, is treated with suspicion, as if the child is lying or has an ulterior motive. Permission must be asked. A special pass granted.

Imagine, as an adult in the workplace, not being able to go to the bathroom when you needed to? Imagine having to ask your superior for permission to perform this most natural of bodily functions, and being treated with suspicion when you wanted to do so.

It was in 1973 that the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare—which includes the National Institute of Mental Health—created the Special Education Program for children with “learning disabilities.” This gave birth to a whole new army of experts who had to be trained and employed and, as such, had to justify their employment by identifying a certain number of Special Needs students in each school. Because for every Special Needs child, the government provides extra funding. In 1991, teachers were mandated to “actively seek to identify ADHD children.”

Who has the right to determine which children have “learning disabilities” and which don’t? Based on what? Which of us remembers even one quarter of what we learned in school anyway? Ultimately, who cares if a kid passes those tests or not? Who cares if a child can sit still or not? If they can’t sit still, maybe they shouldn’t be forced to do so. Maybe they should be outside, learning in a different way. Maybe the kids who have been labeled as somehow deficient, aren’t at all. Maybe they actually are smarter than we give them credit for. Who’s to say? Maybe it would be better if children learned in small groups in their neighborhoods, practiced meditation, martial arts, learned to balance a check book, social responsibility, the meaning of happiness, discussed philosophy. Those who want to go on to college and have more specialized training should be able to do so. Those who want to learn a trade should be able to make that transition as teenagers, without feeling as if they are somehow lacking.

But no. Everyone must fit into a box. And for the many who don’t, they must be given a horrible, life-long label that screws up their faith in themselves. All so that the experts can justify their jobs.

Neurologists warn against prescribing ADHD drugs to enhance a child’s performance in school. However—as with the drugs that help athletes perform better—the competition to succeed in our society, no matter the price, is deeply ingrained. Even when the long-term effects might be detrimental, there is so much pressure to take the pill, put on the mask of perfection, and worry about the consequences later. 

Perhaps it might make sense to identify children with this label if there was a stringently objective test to clearly identify the ADHD child. Yet, University of Utah Psychiatrist Paul Wender—known as the Dean of ADHD—states in the July 1, 1996 Psychiatric Times that, “We cannot meaningfully determine how sensitive and specific our criteria for ADHD are because we do not have any means of determining whether an individual patient ‘really’ has the disorder.” (Emphasis mine.)

When I was in elementary school, my family lived for a time in a village in Switzerland. My parents put me and my siblings in the village school, an experience we kids strongly objected to, but that our parents—in their greater wisdom—believed would be good for us. That school bore a striking similarity to Tom Sawyer’s school. All of the kids were loud, boisterous and fidgety. Two boys in particular. My sister and I even nicknamed one of them Tom Sawyer and the other Huck Finn. At recess, the three teachers disappeared while the kids ran wild outside. I learned quickly not to stand at the top of the stairs or I would get pushed down. One small kid named Jean Pierre liked to jump on my back and pull my hair so hard I was sure he would pull it all out. I didn’t know why he had singled me out for punishment or how to make him stop. I hated and feared that kid. I couldn’t even plead with him because we didn’t speak the same language.

One day, I was drawing with some colored pencils when Jean Pierre sidled up. I flinched, prepared for the attack, but saw that he was staring at my artwork in awe. I gestured that he could use the pencils, gave him a blank sheet of paper, and he sat down. We proceeded to draw together in perfect harmony. I then did something that I would have not thought possible before that moment. I gave him the pencils to keep. His impish face lit up with happiness, and from that moment on, I never had another problem with Jean Pierre. 

A little experimentation in the art of negotiation went a long way towards bridging what had seemed to be an impassable gulf. I had assumed that Jean Pierre was insane, that they were all insane. But they weren’t. They were normal kids who were allowed to express their natural emotions more freely than I was used to. I have no doubt that they all grew up to become at least somewhat more sedate.

Putting children on medication deprives them of the most rudimentary and vital learning experiences. I have talked to young people in their twenties who were on medication as children and say they felt cheated out of their childhoods. One young man told me, “When I found out that the doctors had basically been giving me cocaine since the age of six, and my parents had allowed it, I felt betrayed, like they’d been raping my brain, over and over, for years.”

Today I asked my younger son, who is now 22, how many of the friends he grew up with have died due to drugs. He knows of at least eight, but there have been many more among his extended social network.

“How did they die?” I asked him.

“Some had just come out of rehab and OD’d trying to take the same dose of heroin as before. Others died from prescription drugs, like Xanax, mixed with alcohol or something. Sometimes their internal organs just give out.”

Imagine if every young person in your neighborhood knew of at least eight of his or her peers who had died on the battlefield. Thousands would be protesting in front of government buildings, demanding an end to the evil that was stealing the lives of our children.

Under the cloak of psychiatry, supported by the government and the pharmaceutical companies, the American public has been duped into believing that mental illness is a disease, making the imprisonment of children with a mental straightjacket acceptable.

Maybe we could rather reevaluate our “educational” system.

After speaking with Andrea, she again attempted suicide and has been institutionalized. No doubt the experts have mixed yet another cocktail of meds to try and make her comply and fit in.

It might seem like strong language, but in the therapeutic state, forced drugging can well be described as the modus operandi rape of our children’s brains.

A good read: “Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness,” by Christopher Lane, professor of English at Northwestern University.

Sites to look at and used for this essay: National Alliance Against Mandated Mental Health; Project Censored; StoptheDrugWar.comsntp.net (Say NO to Psychiatry); “The Myth of Attention Deficit Disorder” by Dr. Mark Barber; July 1996 Psychiatric Times, Vol. 13, No. 7

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