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Are Affluent Teens The Latest Victims Of Mental Illness?
July 26, 2006
by Tony Zizza

Just when I thought I had emotionally recovered from learning that at least 25 percent of all kids in summer camp are on psych meds, another article in an American newspaper convinces me further that we are indeed one nation - under medication.

According to today's edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Extraordinary numbers of affluent teenagers suffer from depression, anxiety and other emotional illnesses, says an alarming new book, in part because they are more connected to objects than to people."

I can appreciate some of the concerns that psychologist Madeline Levine has within this newspaper article written by Richard Halicks, ("Teens of means"), which refers liberally to her book, "The Price of Privilege." Especially, when she notes the insidiousness of the self esteem movement as it relates to children.

However, I wonder if we can go a whole week in this country without learning that yet another large segment of the population is now deemed mentally ill. ADHD kids. Adults who take a dangerous drug called Prozac because for some reason they cannot "contain" anger while driving an automobile. Now, we're supposed to believe without any doubt that 30 to 40 percent of affluent teenagers suffer from depression and anxiety. I don't think so. It's time that we reject subjective numbers concerning who is mentally ill, just as much as we call into question psychiatric drugs.

I mean, let's get real. We're actually supposed to believe an affluent teenager is one whose parents make $120,000 a year. That could very well be two parents making this money before taxes. Also, observe the word affluent. It seems everytime there is a media blitz concerning a new mental health diagnosis, study, survey, or drug, word useage is very colorful. Well, color me cynical, but these new victims of mental illness, "Teens of means" are just another vehicle being used to drive us into unconditionally thinking that we are all, at some level and all of the time, mentally ill.

If you want to really talk about turning teenagers around from a road of depressed feelings, the answer is not drugs. There's certainly nothing wrong with talk therapy. I will forever love the message set forth in the movie, "Good Will Hunting." Too bad, some adults are such lousy parents they say they don't have time to spend with their kids, but they do have time to get them hooked on psych drugs. What gives? Psych drugs are a horrible alternative to an adult putting their time in to be a parent, rather than a buddy, to their children.

Again, what has become of us as a nation when a week does not go by without huge numbers of children being labeled as mentally ill or emotionally at-risk? Interestingly, many articles and news stories concerning children and mental illness are put out in the public eye in the summer. Are we being smoothed over in some way before we send little Johhny or Jane back to school? Are we being fed a lot of junk science that tastes just as bad as a school lunch? Of course. These days, your children are more identified with having an emotional disorder they unquestionably suffer from, than they are as having the capability to reach their goals.

I've also noticed that when an allegedly new mental disorder is talked about or hinted at, the worst extreme case will be used as a basis for a large group of people suffering from it. That is, some kids will cut themselves. This is sad. Some kids will start drinking or smoking dope. This is not good either. No one is saying that being a teenager is easy, and being a parent to a teenager is an easy ride. The truth is perhaps this: we all know at some level within ourselves when we are doing what we should be doing, and when we are not doing the things we know to be right. It's okay to regroup and start over. Just don't start handing out pills, okay?

Unfortunately, everything we say, think, feel, or wonder about can be identified as a mental disorder. It used to be fine to admit you weren't doing your job as a parent. Go ahead and make changes. No one is perfect. Just don't fall for the trick your family suffers from a relational disorder. Nowadays, it's more than chic to remain a lousy parent and admit that your affluent teenager is no different than millions of other Americans who claim to be depressed or anxious to the point of needing treatment. Where did all this begin? Or more importantly, when will it all end?

I think we will start feeling better when everyone is held accountable for their actions and inactions. We can be better parents if we want to. Children know they have the ability to be better children. It doesn't matter if your family income is $120,000 a year or not even close to that. Or far more. The cat is completely out of the bag now that everyone is a target to the mental health field. Everything is viewed through the prism of alleged mental illness. Affluent teenagers are just today's advertising copy for the next psych drug and insurance billing code.

Tony Zizza serves as the Vice President of the State of Georgia for the nonprofit organization, Parents For Label and Drug Free Education Read Zizza's "Think Twice" column there.

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