This makes me sick.

24 03 2007

Girl’s Death stirs debate over psychiatric meds

HULL, Mass. – In the final months of Rebecca Riley’s life, a school nurse said the little girl was so weak she was like a “floppy doll.”

The preschool principal had to help Rebecca off the bus because the 4-year-old was shaking so badly.

And a pharmacist complained that Rebecca’s mother kept coming up with excuses for why her daughter needed more and more medication.
None of their concerns was enough to save Rebecca.

Rebecca — who had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity and bipolar disorder, or what used to be called manic depression — died Dec. 13 of an overdose of prescribed drugs, and her parents have been arrested on murder charges, accused of intentionally overmedicating their daughter to keep her quiet and out of their hair.

Interviews and a review of court documents by The Associated Press make it clear that many of those who were supposed to protect Rebecca — teachers, social workers, other professionals — suspected something was wrong, but never went quite far enough.

Troubling questions
But the tragic case is more than a story about one child. It raises troubling, larger questions about the state of child psychiatry, namely: Can children as young as Rebecca be accurately diagnosed with mental illnesses? Are rambunctious youngsters being medicated for their parents’ convenience? And should children so young be prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs meant for adults?

How does this even happen? Children should not be given such strong medications unless everyone (including psychiatrists,child psychologists, social workers, parents, etc) are 100% sure that they are necessary. Something like this should never ever happen to a little kid. She died in pain, and she was so damn little. Now I’m afraid there’ll be a backlash against psychiatry and people will stop taking their meds or refuse to take them because of this. This is so awful I can’t even find the right words to describe how outraged/upset/horrified I am.



4 03 2007

ugh, I’m having one of those days again. tired and faithless, cynical beyond all measure of a doubt. I blame reading radfem blogs (“transcritical”, eh?) and learning about sarah schulman’s beef with jonathan larson.

Mental Illness in POC and the Poor

9 12 2006

   Besides being interested in feminism and anti-racism, I’ve been a psychology geek for several years now. The other day, i was thinking about how generally screwed-up the mental health system is in America, and how ignored I felt when I was in inpatient care. Then I started thinking about how the politics of race play into this, since I had noticed during my stay at Horsham Clinic how many POC (for future reference, People Of Color) teenagers were there, and more importantly, how many of them were repeat patients. Most of the middle-to-upper class white patients, unless they had severe drug abuse or self-injury issues, got out within a week or two, while everyone poor or POC got stuck in the awful loop of inpatient, outpatient, therapy, out of therapy, crisis, inpatient. I googled “mental illness in minorities” (since google doesn’t seem to recognize the term “POC”) and found several articles that I found of interest. They all confirm my earlier observations: that people of color with mental illness suffer not only from the illnesses, but from the racism, classism, and sexism present in society. According to this link, “Although minorities are just a likely as non-minorities to experience severe mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, they are far less likely to receive treatment. For instance, the percentage of African Americans receiving needed care is only half that of whites, and 24% of Hispanics with depression and anxiety receive appropriate care compared to 34% of whites with the same diagnosis.” The article talks about how there is a profound lack of research concerning mental illness in POC–what a surprise, considering “white” is the default in American society. Also, if one is uninsured or has a lower income (as some POC do due to racism and lack of good medical infrastructure), they are distinctly less likely to receive the care they need.

Another issue is language barriers. Certain groups of POC are more likely to have learned English as a second language or to not have learned it at all, making it hard for them to go to a doctor and describe what’s wrong with them. Also, with the current anti-immigrant climate in this country, I’d be willing to bet that at least one doctor would harass patients over their English difficulties (hey, my own psychiatrist has been condescending towards me due to my being “overly emotional”).

I was also interested in the rate of mental illness in the homeless and the percentage of the homeless who were POC.  This link, which discusses homelessness in St. Louis, states that around 5 to 10 percent of the homeless population is schizophrenic, and that over the years, the number of homeless minorities has increased dramatically. So, the trifecta of poverty, mental illness, and racism strikes again.

I feel that part of the problem is that it seems as if the pharmaceutical and insurance industries are so tightly woven together, they’ve created the mental health industry, which makes providing care to the mentally ill all about profit. This bothers me deeply, as I feel everyone with a mental illness deserves the proper care and treatment, regardless of economic status. I’m not advocating that every therapist and psychiatrist give their services for free, but it wouldn’t kill anybody to establish a few low-cost mental health clinics in areas of poverty.

I don’t know how much I can do to help level the playing field, but perhaps an awareness campaign can help. Does anyone know of any books or articles about such campaigns?