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First, despite public perceptions to the contrary, reliable statistics purporting to prove that vast numbers of children are incorrectly diagnosed with and improperly medicated for disorders— ranging from AD/HD to autism to depression and bipolar disorder—just don't exist. Rather than well-designed epidemiological research that could provide solid answers to the current state of our children's mental health, Warner found numerous inconclusive, confusing, and often conflicting reports, whose various findings can be selectively cherry-picked to support a bewildering range of preconceived conclusions. In fact, she concluded that, "For every researcher who believes there has been a real increase in a certain mental disorder, there is another one saying that, in fact, there hasn't."
Whom to believe—or even what to believe? Perhaps the most balanced perspective on the incidence of at least one mental disorder—depression—came from Duke University epidemiologist E. Jane Costello, who concluded from a research study that encompassed 60,000 adults and children that, "Thirty years of research suggests that, for as far back as we have reliable assessments, a similar proportion of children have been depressed, albeit, largely unrecognized by clinicians. If more depressed children are being identified, or are receiving antidepressant medication, this is more likely to be the result of increased sensitivity to a long-standing problem than of an Ôepidemic.'"
And yet "increased sensitivity" is itself a buzzword for those claiming that's the cause of any number of wrongly diagnosed cases or findings of disorders that may not even exist. Rather than wasting energy debating the numbers, Warner asks, wouldn't the public (and our children) be better served by training pediatricians and therapists more thoroughly, so they can identify the correct diagnosis, and provide suffering children with the help they require?
And countless children are suffering, especially those who are poor or disadvantaged. For instance, up to 60 percent of foster care children have mental disorders, she found. Moreover, after reviewing the evidence, Warner was surprised to find herself concluding that neither they—nor children in general—are being overmedicated. According to U.S. government statistics, while 5 to 20 percent of all children have psychiatric problems, only 5 percent take psychotropic medications. That's hardly the "pattern of gross overmedication" that's believed to exist by a vast majority (86 percent according to one survey) of the American public.