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ADHD, The Check Out Line, and Me

There is a lot to talk about, like: What a great job Obama is doing (and how saddened I am by how many are so critical so soon), the auto industry bailout and why it’s not "cost-effective" for the big … Read More

By / December 9, 2008

There is a lot to talk about, like:

What a great job Obama is doing (and how saddened I am by how many are so critical so soon), the auto industry bailout and why it’s not "cost-effective" for the big 3 to go green, the staggering number of people losing jobs, and the theme I’ve hit several times since the Olympics: China’s devastating invasion of parts of Africa.

But right now I want to have a moment about ADHD, Ritalin, and prevailing attitudes about mental health.

Today at the health food store I overheard a conversation between a Dad, the person ringing up his groceries, and a woman on line.

The dad said his daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, and Ritalin was working well. He said she’s been experiencing a lot of success in school and at home and "her turn-around" was "like a miracle." The checker gave an enthusiastic high-five. "Hey man, that’s so great."

Then the woman chimed in with anecdotal information about an Omega-3 supplement that "helped the son of a friend." She tried to remember the name of the supplement, and while reaching for the name, suggested Dad try it.

Dad suddenly looked ashamed and embarrassed. He said he had "read some studies" about the supplement and was hoping to "get some soon." He really wanted to get his daughter off the Ritalin, he said. Because although she was doing better, he "hated being duped by the drug companies," who probably "invented ADHD in the first place."

The woman nodded, and agreed. "It’s worth a shot," she said, offering no further information about her clinical credentials or the supplement she suggested Dad try on the daughter who responded to Ritalin as if it were "a miracle." "The overmedication of children in this country is a crime," she said. "Have you tried taking her off wheat and sugar?"

At which point I had to tune out or risk an intervention.

Listen, I agree big pharma is problematic. I agree all kinds of illnesses are "created" by drug marketers, a lot of kids are overmedicated, and the whole world should be focused on preventive care, and living holistically in organic environments.

But sometimes illness actually responds to Western medicine, and when it does, I for one am happy to have access to it, not just for bone marrow transplants and the shrinking of brain tumors, but for schizophrenia and bi-polar disease, clinical depression and Tourette’s.

I left the store wondering when we as a culture will decide once and for all that mental wellness, like any other kind of health, is worthy of pharmaceutical support. When mental illness, like cancer or lupus or HIV, will finally be deemed legitimate enough to warrant medication.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Like any other disease, it’s something to treat. Whether it’s with herbs, meds, beets, or yoga doesn’t matter. What matters is that people–regardless of ideology, religion or cultural taboos–get better, feel happier, and are more able to make healthy decisions for themselves and the people they love.

I originally posted a version of this on TheRoot.com, a site with a decidedly African-American take. I’m wondering if the stigma around mental illness in the black community is more intense than in the Jewishy community. I think we Jewishy ones tend to incorporate mental illness into our idea of culture. A little neurotic? That’s called being a Jewish mother. Depressed? Well bubbeleh, what’s not to be depressed about? Life is suffering, you know that.

Plagued by doubt, uncertainty, a constant sense of impending doom and annhiliation? Eh, well, what are you going to do? This is our lot. Even though it all started with Freud, there seems to be a fine line between belief in psychoanalysis, and embracing the need for it as a source of cultural pride.

But is this a coping mechanism left over from a more harrowing time? Looking at emasculated sons and anxiety ridden, hypervigilant mothers, I wonder, does our thinking on this help or hurt? Can we imagine a Jewishy identity not mired in neurotic pathos?

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