Getting by is hard enough in middle school. It's harder still when you've got other things on your mind--and Andrea Okeson, 13, had plenty to distract her. There were the constant stomach pains to consider; there was the nervousness, the distractibility, the overwhelming need to be alone. And, of course, there was the business of repeatedly checking the locks on the doors. All these things grew, inexplicably, to consume Andrea, until by the time she was through with the eighth grade, she seemed pretty much through with everything else too. "Andrea," said a teacher to her one day, "you look like death."
The problem, though neither Andrea nor her teacher knew it, was that her adolescent brain was being tossed by the neurochemical storms of generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)--a decidedly lousy trifecta. If that was what eighth grade was, ninth was unimaginable.
But that was then. Andrea, now 18, is a freshman at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., enjoying her friends and her studies and looking forward to a career in fashion merchandising, all thanks to a bit of chemical stabilizing provided by a pair of pills: Lexapro, an antidepressant, and Adderall, a relatively new anti-adhd drug. "I feel excited about things," Andrea says. "I feel like I got me back."
So a little medicine fixed what ailed a child. Good news all around, right? Well, yes--and no. Lexapro is the perfect answer for anxiety all right, provided you're willing to overlook the fact that it does its work by artificially manipulating the very chemicals responsible for feeling and thought. Adderall is the perfect answer for adhd, provided you overlook the fact that it's a stimulant like Dexedrine. Oh, yes, you also have to overlook the fact that the Adderall has left Andrea with such side effects as weight loss and sleeplessness, and both drugs are being poured into a young brain that has years to go before it's finally fully formed. Still, says Andrea, "I'm just glad there were things that could be done."
Those things--whether Lexapro or Ritalin or Prozac or something else--are being done for more and more American children. In fact, they are being done with such frequency that some people have justifiably begun to ask, Are we raising Generation Rx?
Just a few years ago, psychologists couldn't say with certainty that kids were even capable of suffering from depression the same way adults do. Now, according to PhRMA, a pharmaceutical trade group, up to 10% of all American kids may suffer from some mental illness. Perhaps twice that many have exhibited some symptoms of depression. Up to a million others may suffer from the alternately depressive and manic mood swings of bipolar disorder (BPD), one more condition that was thought until recently to be an affliction of adults alone. ADHD rates are exploding too. According to a Mayo Clinic study, children between 5 and 19 have at least a 7.5% chance of being found to have ADHD, which amounts to nearly 5 million kids. Other children are receiving diagnoses and medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder, social-anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pathological impulsiveness, sleeplessness, phobias and more.