Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Frontline's "The Medicated Child"

If you didn't catch last night's show on PBS's Frontline, you can watch it in its entirety here. I spent two hours being interviewed in a very hot hotel room at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge (back in August), and I got about 20 seconds of snippet-fame on the show. Not much, but I was glad to have had the chance to participate in a small way.

Some thoughts:
--Overall, great show: it was intelligent, balanced, and didn't oversimplify.
--Child psychiatrists came across rather poorly. One particularly cringe-worthy scene involved Dr. Bacon listening to the parent's worries about medications after Rebecca Riley's death, and then, without skipping a beat, offering to add Xanax and upping the dose of Trileptal. Poor form, expecially after he was quoted saying that prescribing drugs was an exercise in "experimenting."
--Nonetheless, Kiki Chang was an excellent stand-in for Dr. Biederman. He came across as extremely intelligent, progressive, and concerned. But does he really think that he can diagnose future bipolar disorder by getting a teenager to say that his thoughts race?
--David Shaffer, chief of child psychiatry at Columbia, spoke wisely about the over-reliance on medication in children. His wisdom, combined with his British accent, made it pretty much impossible not to believe everything he had to say.


Anonymous said...

On a similar topic, did anyone see “Today’s Man,” a documentary that premiered last night on most PBS stations?

Nicky Gottlieb, who in the film offers his theory of how the world was formed, has Asperger’s Syndrome. His sister, Lizzie Gottlieb, spent six years committing his life to film. As reviewed in the NY Times, "She depicts a highly intelligent man addicted to television, socially inappropriate, self-aware about his condition and negotiating the world with both humor and bewilderment." (

Anonymous said...

"does he really think that he can diagnose future bipolar disorder by getting a teenager to say that his thoughts race?"

You're thinking about this in entirely the wrong way. He's not diagnosing a future bipolar teenager, he's diagnosing a current subthreshold bipolar teenager.

Wait.... child subthreshold bipolar disorder? Has that one been done yet?

soulful sepulcher said...

Unfortunately, Dr.Bacon is a prime example of exactly each psychiatrist [except one]my daughter ever saw was like. Dr.Bacon, as he dismissed the mother's concern re:Rebecca Riley's death, was unbelievably awful to watch, as a parent who has lived with doctors like him. You know, it basically made him look heartless, and without concern. Kiki Chang did do a good job fronting for The Great Biederman Production Team. The snippet they did get of you spoke volumes.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Carlat: Don't you think part of the problem with psychiatry in general are the residency programs? I've learned almost nothing about therapy during my ivy league residency and almost all of the grand rounds are Pharma sponsored. I wish you were more critical of medical training before CME -- it starts in med school with all of the free pens and talks by pretty pharma reps telling us that atypical drug A is the best thing since sliced bread.

Rey T said...

I recently viewed "The Medicated Child" in an Abnormal Psychology class and was really struck with what is now going on with children all across the country. I am 22 years old and while growing up life seemed very different from what I see now. I noticed the way these children are now being brought up in this "technological age". There is no longer a great deal of outdoor activities that children participate in, instead many children are sitting in front of a television or computer. Could the overwhelming energy that some of these children face be helped with outdoor activities or some sort of activity?

I was also surprised the way the medical professionals saw this situation. Dt. Bacon clearly stated that medicating these children was an experiment and it's a gamble giving these children these medications. It was so unfortunate that he did not even take a second to rethink about giving medication to the boy after his mother was concerned about the medication that killed Rebecca Riley. These medications seem very harmful to children that are still growing up and their bodies are changing. I hope that parents become more cautious and educated if they feel they need to medicate their children.

Unknown said...

This show was completely disgusting and difficult to swallow. I do not believe in medicating children period especially when they are still developing. At the same time I know there are special cases in which medication is absolutely needed to ensure the safety of a child. It is obvious though to everyone who looks into it that way too many kids are being feed medication. I am old fashioned and I blame the parents its simple don’t medicate your three year old he doesn’t know anything, and in most cases they are “hyper-active” because the parents are to fat and laze to make sure their children are being stimulated mentally and physically. So they take the easy way out and medicate the child so they don’t have to deal with the normal stress of raising a child. Jacob is seriously messed up and his life may have been ruined but making him dependent on unneeded medication since his was three. He looks like a drug addict and acts like a weirdo. This is BS children should not be medical experiments. This is a problem that is ruining familys and destroying lives. David Axelson explains the mindset of treatment best, “there is no scientific answer here about what to do….well I think we should try to go up a little bit on the medication”. Well when does that cycle end?

jewdiful said...

this doctor claimed that medicine 99% of the answer to the child's problems, and that therapy would only help 1%. what?! i was shocked by this. definitely the most disturbing part of the film. he was heartless, cold, and so disengaged i couldn't quell the rising swell of rage. i find this a ridiculous thing to say, to believe, and to convey to parents... until you consider the very strong likelihood of monetary motivations of a psychiatrist making such a statement.

another thing that jumped out at me was the little boy's father. he was only shown a couple times, and not only had extremely cold eyes, a disturbing expression on his face during the news coverage of the little girl's death, one of his few contributions to the interview was a strongly defensive reaction to medicating his son. i'm not making any claims or judgements of course, just that i found his behavior highly suspicious.

lots of love, attention, a healthy diet (this is tragically overlooked, all too often), and physical activity are things that western children are continually denied more and more as the years pass. the TV, pharmaceuticals, processed and chemical diets, and sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day have become regular features of childhood, and the fact that these are overlooked boggles my mind. it's no wonder children are having so many problems - these things are not conducive to a fulfilled, healthy childhood - in many ways, i believe they are a major root cause of all of this dysfunction.