Media and Scare Tactics

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • Tonight, PBS will be airing a documentary titled "The Medicated Child" (9:00pm EST), which will cover the inside world of child psychiatry and the growing debate on diagnosing and treating mental illness in children. ADHD, pediatric bipolar disorder and more will be discussed in tonight's show.


    Of course, it has me worried, because for years, I have been debunking myths about ADHD and countering inaccurate information that the media has spouted. I have fought endlessly for offering research based data when media has, instead, played upon parents' anxieties and fears by telling them that for example, ADHD doesn't exist, or that medications used for treating ADHD are dangerous.

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    Parents do need to be informed. But must we use TV shows, magazines and newspapers whose modus operandi is often to create controversy rather than to educate people about ADHD? Luckily, in recent years, I've seen a change. Reporters are doing a better job in gathering information from leading ADHD experts and by reading solid scientific studies. Rather than spreading hysteria, reporters and journalists are taking it upon themselves to learn more about ADHD.


    But that's not always the case. So when I see that shows like the one being aired tonight will be addressing "medicating children", well...I get very nervous and only hope the producers chose to go the high road rather than using the air time to promote controversy and fear.


    How does a parent know what to believe? For starters, listen to how words are used. Alarmists often use the word "drug" instead of "medication." Their slant is often towards "drugging kids" instead of "finding the proper treatment." They question whether ADHD is a true disorder; since they claim there is no test to show it exists (new research is now showing that we can actually recognize ADHD brains). Interestingly, we can all agree (I hope) that depression, anxiety and substance abuse exists, even if we can't prove it with a blood test. Yet we still hear people questioning the existence of ADHD. Parents need to learn to listen with their third ear.


    When you watch the show tonight, take note of your feelings. Did it make you feel anxious? Angry? Unsure? If that's the case, pick up the phone tomorrow and discuss your concerns with your or your child's doctor.


    And if you would, please come back here with your comments. I'd love to discuss your take on this. I'm sure the journalists will be writing plenty about it tomorrow!

Published On: January 08, 2008