Over the past quarter century, the number of children and teens taking psychotropic medication to ease the symptoms of mental illness has grown exponentially. From ADHD and depression to OCD and anxiety, medication has been increasingly prescribed as a solution to behavioral and psychological difficulties in the young. Now, the first generation of Americans to have grown up taking psychotropic medications are becoming adults, raising questions about how their prescriptions have shaped their experiences, their personalities, and their sense of themselves.
In DOSED: The Medication Generation Grows Up, Kaitlin Bell Barnett explores the history of mental health treatment for children and teens, and talks to the young adults who are dealing with the repercussions of the psychopharmacological revolution.
Though the effect of long-term medication use is often evaluated in a lab, the voices of the patients themselves are rarely heard. In DOSED, Bell Barnett, who at the age of seventeen began taking medication to treat her own depression, set out to document the personal accounts of young medicated patients. “Now that the first generation of medicated kids is entering adulthood,” she writes, “we have an invaluable opportunity to hear about their experiences with psychotropic drugs, and their assessment of those experiences.”
The book focuses on five case studies: Claire-whose story starts at age eleven -suffered from symptoms of depression and insomnia and had a family history of mental illness; Elizabeth-who is introduced at age twelve-is the child of a protracted divorce who is left without much supervision of her medication for depression and ADHD; Paul-whose story starts at age five-is caught up in the foster care system and an abundance of instability in his home life leads to him being heavily medicated for anger and hyperactivity issues; Caleb-whom the book introduces at age twelve-is an only child who was the victim of severe bullying at school which leads to post traumatic stress disorder and the later diagnosis of bipolar disorder; and Alex-introduced at age eighteen-who was emotionally abused by a step-parent and suffered a relapse of the OCD and depression that he had been diagnosed with as a child.
Just as each mental illness brings with it its own difficulties and struggles, Bell Barnett reveals that each medication comes with long term consequences as well. Issues of self-identity, the pain of relapse, and physical side effects, ranging from diabetes and migraines to sexual difficulties and risks of birth defects for pregnant women, are all coming to light as this first generation of medicated kids comes of age.
About the author:
Kaitlin Bell Barnett is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in numerous national and regional newspapers and magazines, including the Boston Globe, New York Observer, Atlanta-Journal Constitution, and Prevention Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.