|Kate Fallon general secretary of the
Association of Educational Psychologists|
addresses Trades Union Congress 2011.
More troubling are reports that new guidelines will mean children are at risk of being medicated to control their bad, inappropriate or unusual behaviour. In a speech to the TUC this week, Kate Fallon, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, warned that new criteria for the definition of mental illness, due to be adopted in 2013, may lead to many more children with what are currently regarded as common behavioural problems being over-diagnosed with a range of mental disorders and prescribed powerful medication.
Her words suggest that a quick fix is planned for delinquency, invoking a gruesome picture of Generation Stepford: that boy isn’t an exuberant attention seeker, he must have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD,) so bring on the Ritalin; and while we’re at it, why not give it to the obstinate and rude one who sits next to him, too. As for that quiet girl who avoids class discussions, she’s surely anxious and depressed so dose her up with Prozac.
Irrespective of new guidelines, I do not believe that the medical profession is irresponsible enough to dole out drugs unless a proper diagnosis has been made. And diagnosis is the key. ADHD is certainly believed by the advocates of psychostimulants to be under-diagnosed in the UK and a problem because, untreated, they mistakenlyu believe it can lead to aggressive and criminal behaviour, which is something we see plenty of in schools and on our streets. It can , they believe, also result in learning difficulties, sometimes severe, and Ritalin is thought to be an effective treatment for the attention deficit side of it.
Many behavioural problems cannot be treated with drugs, however, but I am in favour of them being investigated so that the best treatment is given, if appropriate. An obstinate, oppositional child’s mind cannot be changed by drugs, but good management by trained adults can work wonders. The shy child should be monitored – sensitively – for underlying problems. If there is no apparent cause, indulge their shyness, but if they are clinically depressed, it may be right to turn to medication.
There are no bad guys in this, just skewed ideas. We have a monolithic educational model which does not suit some children because of their differences. Our society historically recoils from mental illness and a corrective pill that can make it go away and remove the possible contagion that might affect our own children has great appeal. Educators are in a hurry and bad behaviour in schools works against the good results needed to please their political masters and parents.
As it is, the ''let’s medicate’’ lobby is on a hiding to nothing. Teenagers especially will be resistant to drugs that dull or distort their childhood; they will spit out their medication the moment their parents’ backs are turned, resentful that they must take a drug in order to be accepted at school.
So there is no good to be had in scaring the public into thinking that the first time Johnny misbehaves in class, he’ll be on the couch and then most likely doped. If there is something awry in the psyche of Britain’s schoolchildren, and I suspect there will be many cases, we are going to need a lot more than pills to sort it out.
Children who, for whatever reason, do not fit the system need well-planned, long-term therapeutic support. Some may require the appliance of science but most need tolerance, patience, and certainly no threat from 'the rod,' or 'the chemical cosh.'