Medicalization is the process where human conditions and problems become defined as medical conditions, and thus are resigned to treatment by the medical profession; often with the use of pharmaceutical substances. Often, alternative and social methods are overlooked.

Extended family networks are less prevalent today. Social support networks are often limited. There is a tendency towards being more isolated, and this is more so with the prevalence of single parent families. In the absence of such support, someone to talk to ‘heart’ to ‘heart’: doctors are acknowledging that ‘counselling’ is becoming a larger part of their practice, though not necessarily part of their training. Sadly, doctors are taking the place of significant others in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, medicine has improved the quality of life for many people, for example: asthmatics and diabetics – where in the past medicines were non-existent or less effectual.

Many cases, medication are necessary and a life saving option. But sometimes, it seems all too easy to seek medication as fix for everything. I have known person’s going through bereavement, to be told by her doctor, that anti-depressants will be necessary for the rest of their life. This is without having exploring counselling as an option.

Our western lifestyle of inactivity, stress, foods grown in impoverished soils, processed foods and food additives are contributing to ill health and chronic conditions appearing in earlier ages. Lifestyle choices, such as exercise, healthy eating has shown to be beneficial in minimising and some cases (like type 2 diabetics), correcting medical conditions. These options should not be ignored.

But there appears to be that the medical industry is encroaching more and more upon everyday life. Many of us, at some stage in our life; experience physical sensations and emotional states that are uncomfortable, that we considered as part of life’s experience. For example: insomnia, sadness, twitchy legs, low sex drive and transexualism. Now, they are diagnosed as conditions of: sleep disorder, depression, restless leg syndrome, sexual dysfunction and gender dysphoria. The figure often quoted of one in five Australians, (some 4.5 million people) at some stage is expected to suffer from mental illness in Australia, does seem a little high.

Medicalization is particularly evident and worrisome with regard to children. Childhood and adolescence can be a challenging and sometimes painful part of our lives.  Expressions of healthy emotions, anger, frustration and fear; and regarding these as undesirable and due to a brain malfunction, treating with medications: overlooks the social, environmental, parental and socio-economic factors that may contribute to the child’s behaviour. The medication of children will leave them little opportunity to understand, manage or find their own solutions for their feelings in the present and into the future.

In the UK, one in ten children is currently considered to have an emotional or behavioural disorder. There are many labels used to loosely define child behaviour, including:

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Attachment Disorder, Personality Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and more.

Many disorders lack specific cognitive, metabolic or neurological markers that could be identified by a medical test and diagnosis is often based upon the opinion of the medical practitioner.

The definition of ADHD in the UK has been changed 4 times in an ever broadening scope, that currently 360,000 or one in twenty children in England and Wales alone are said to suffer from the condition. In 2007, 500,000 prescriptions for stimulant medication were written for children under 16, some as young as seven years old. A 200 per cent increase from 2003.

In America, one in six children is regarded to have a behaviour or learning disability. A study by Michigan State University found about 900,000 young, immature children had an incorrect diagnosis of ADHD. A second study by University of Notre Dame found that being young in a grade increases the risk of being diagnosed with ADHD by 30 per cent.

In Australia, stimulant drugs to treat ADHD has risen 300% over the last 7 years. It’s use is particularly amongst male children and teenagers. Dr Scott, a consultant psychiatrist at the University of Queensland was quoted in the Age  to say: ”About five to 10 per cent of the population has ADHD so these rates are not extraordinarily high,

Little is known about the effects of the medication on children: the effects on the developing brain, long term effects and side effects of medications as there are few studies of using such medications on children. Questions also need to be raised about research findings: where researchers receive subsidy or benefit from pharmaceutical companies.

Not that long ago, we were cautious about using medications in children, that seems to have gone by the wayside. Ultimately, we need to consider the children’s well being and future wellbeing. Should we holistically examine the causes and alternatives to such behaviours before reaching for the prescription pad?

If drugs are the solution to life’s ills, what remedies will the children seek towards difficult situations in their future? Are we laying the foundation for future generations dependant on pharmaceutical agents?

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