Sunday, September 18, 2011

'Shy' children at risk of being diagnosed with mental disorder

Children who are merely shy or sad are at risk of being diagnosed with mental disorders and given powerful drugs. Psychologists say that new guidelines being developed in America will lead more young people seeing their common problems regarded as illnesses that must be treated, rather than just being given support.

They fear that pupils who are quiet at school could be diagnosed with “social anxiety disorder” while those who become withdrawn after suffering a bereavement are classified as having a “depressive disorder”.

Children who just talk back to adults or lose their temper regularly could be diagnosed with “oppositional defiant disorder”.

As a result, those found to have these increasingly broad mental disorders could be prescribed powerful medication such as Prozac or Ritalin to control or alter their behaviour.

Now the pressure is increasing for a national review of the use of such drugs on schoolchildren as well as more research into their long-term effects, following a vote at the TUC Congress on Wednesday.

Kate Fallon, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, told delegates: “Behaviours develop over a long period of time, often with a range of complex causes; we can’t ‘cure’ the behaviours we don’t like with a quick fix of medicine. They usually require careful management by all the adults around the child.

“In 2013 we’re expecting new criteria for the definition of mental illness to be adopted here in the UK. These criteria will lead to many more children being diagnosed as mentally ill, based on reports of their behaviours.

“A shy child could be diagnosed with social anxiety; a sad or temporarily withdrawn child could be diagnosed with depression.

“These are conditions which are also likely to be treated with medication – and under these circumstances, Congress, we will be putting potent drugs into children with little or no understanding of what it will lead to.

“In a society that wants quick results using drugs to improve behaviour is very tempting. But there can be other ways of improving children’s behaviour which typically involve time and energy from people.”

Research has found that children under the age of six are being prescribed the drug Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, prompting calls for the Department of Health to investigate the scale of the problem and the potential long-term damage it may be causing.

Recent figures show 650,000 children aged between eight and 13 are on the pscyhotropic drug, up from just 9,000 two decades ago, while others are taking Prozac for depression or anxiety.

Fears are growing that the number of children diagnosed with mental disorders and prescribed drugs will increase still further after 2013, when a new “bible” of the psychiatric profession is published.

Known as DSM-5, the book widens the diagnostic criteria for many supposed conditions including social anxiety disorder, better known as shyness, and will likely be adopted by the health authorities in Britain after appearing first in the US.

The proposed new definition for social anxiety disorder states that it is marked by “fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. Examples include social interactions (e.g., having a conversation), being observed (e.g., eating or drinking), or performing in front of others (e.g., giving a speech)”.

In children this fear could be expressed by “crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging, shrinking or refusal to speak in social situations”.

Young people will be deemed as having oppositional defiant disorder if they display symptoms including losing their temper, arguing with adults, deliberately annoying people or being “spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past six months” to people other than their brothers or sisters.

The British Psychological Society has also raised concerns about the proposed revisions to the DSM.

It does not dispute that some children have emotional and behavioural problems but says that patients and the public are “negatively affected” by the continued “medicalisation” of natural and normal responses to their experiences, and that classifying such problems as “illnesses” ignores their wider causes.

Prof Peter Kinderman, chairman of the society’s Division of Clinical Psychology, said: “We’re not certain that a diagnosis and a medical response is the best way to help these kids.

“Absolutely understand and help, not necessarily diagnose and treat.”


A 10p vitamin B pill a day from middle age may ward off Alzheimer's

This looks very encouraging but the very high doses used raise serious concerns about damaging side-effects

Taking one vitamin B pill a day from middle age could protect your memory as you grow older – and even ward off Alzheimer’s, British researchers say. The supplement, which costs just 10p, is described as the ‘first glimmer of hope’ in the battle to find a drug that slows or stops the development of the disease.

Pensioners who took high doses of the vitamin once a day for two years did 70 per cent better on a simple memory test than those who did not. The Oxford University scientists say the pill prevents the memory lapses that can be a precursor to dementia. They also found it cut brain shrinkage linked to memory loss by up to 500 per cent.

They say people should consider taking high-dose vitamin B from middle age – but only after seeking their doctor’s advice.

Alzheimer’s and forms of dementia blight the lives of more than 800,000 Britons. That number is expected to double within a generation, as the population ages.

In landmark research published last year, Dr Celeste de Jager and her colleagues, who are also behind this study, showed that high doses of vitamin B cut brain shrinkage linked to memory loss. The latest results, presented at the British Science Festival in Bradford, show that it also helps stop memory from failing.

In the trial, 270 pensioners with mild cognitive impairment – the slight memory lapses that can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s – were asked to take a vitamin B tablet once a day for a year, or given a dummy pill to take instead.

The tablets contained extremely high amounts of vitamins B6, 9 and 12. For instance, the dose of B12 was up to 300 times higher than could be obtained by eating foods rich in the vitamin, such as bananas, wholegrains and meat.

The pill reduced the shrinkage of the brain, which happens naturally with age, by 30 per cent on average – but it halved it in those with the highest levels of a chemical called homocysteine in their bloodstream. In one case, it was cut five-fold.

Homocysteine is a natural compound that builds up in the body as we age and, at high levels, is linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s. Vitamin B breaks it down. In the study, those with higher than average levels of homocysteine who took vitamin B performed almost 70 per cent better on a memory test than those who took the placebo pill.

It specifically bolsters episodic memory, the type needed to remember things such as shopping lists – and one of the first to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s.

In addition, those with the very highest levels of homocysteine who took vitamin B were less likely to have progressed towards Alzheimer’s, and in some cases, their memory lapses disappeared entirely after the two years.

Researcher Professor David Smith termed the effects ‘striking’. But while the team said those in middle age could benefit from the treatment, they stressed they must speak to their doctor.

High-dose vitamins may trigger cancer and are known to fuel existing cancers. They may also react with medicines including arthritis and psoriasis drugs.


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