There has been growing discussion in recent years about the rising rate of suicide among teenagers and young adults along with related discussions about mental illness. The discussions of mental illness have included a few high profile personalities who publicly admitted to having experienced bouts of depression that left them feeling discouraged. Some people admitted to turning to alcohol and other mind-altering drugs during such periods, while others obtained prescription anti-depressant medications. At the present time, an estimated 14 million school-aged teenagers across North America are believed to be on some form of prescription anti-depressant.
Viewed from a free-market economic perspective, it is clear that the state is at least partially responsible for large numbers of teenagers taking anti-depressant medications. In Washington, pharmaceutical industry lobbyists operate on an estimated budget of some US$2 to US$3 billion and meet regularly with government officials. Reports from Ottawa suggest frequent contact between government health department officials and pharmaceutical industry representatives. In one very high profile case that reached the news media, a Dr. Chopra gave an insider view of being pressured to approve a drug, as well as connections between senior health department officials and industry.
The large number of teenagers taking prescription anti-depressants raises the question of who does the initial diagnosis and by what means. In many cases, the diagnosis actually begins in government-run schools, usually the result of a teacher identifying students who engage in disruptive behaviours. The offending students are usually boys and the identifying teachers are usually women. In most school districts across the USA and Canada, some 80% of teachers are women, with 90% of teachers in New York City being women. The combination of politics and women’s liberation movement lobbying has greatly reduced the number of male teachers over the years.
Female teachers who classify normal boys’ behaviour as being disruptive in the classroom initiate a chain of events that results in many boys being prescribed compulsory school-attendance medication to modify their behaviour. Using medication to modify behaviour is the realm of psychiatry, that is, medication as a remedy for some form of illness. Many years ago, the controversial onetime professor of psychiatry at SUNY Syracuse, Dr. Thomas Szasz, penned a treatise entitled, “The Myth of Mental Illness.” But if the boys are not mentally ill, why put them on medication to modify their behaviour?
Some recent studies into boys’ behaviours by free-market leaning researchers suggest that the so-called problem behaviours are actually normal and natural for boys. Author and former teacher John Taylor Gatto has suggested in his writings and video presentations that the modern school environment may be antithetical to learning and may actually destroy children’s joy of learning. Other authors and critics have condemned the state enforced word-recognition or look-say method of teaching children to read, as being inferior to the prohibited phonic or phonetic method of recognizing individual letters and “sounding each letter” style of reading instruction.
Evidence suggests that state-enforced, word-recognition method of reading instruction may cause dyslexia, classified in some circles as a form of mental illness that affects many teenagers. Teenagers who become dyslexic may be at risk of depression, also classified as a mental illness, and become candidates for prescription anti-depressants. In a perverse and indirect way, the state through its educational policies may actually be creating a market for such medications while also indirectly contributing to the earnings of pharmaceutical companies. Public health programs may also partly cover such drug costs.
Some anti-depressants have negative side effects. Every known school shooter in the USA and Canada was on anti-depressants. While several teenage suicides were on anti-depressants, public health and education officials were quick to defend the alleged benefits of such medications. Dating back over many years, several universities have endured the suicides of students during the school year. However, it is unclear whether anti-depressants were a factor as other factors were present. In recent years, the increase of suicide rates among university students has become a cause for concern.
The term “mental illness” has been applied to students and others who have considered or committed suicide. Attending a university has the potential to subject students to a great deal of emotional stress, a possible result of the traditional method of university instruction and grading being based on an industrial schedule that suits the convenience of the institution. Not all students can process massive volumes of information at the same “industrial” pace. Some students may be under parental pressure to attend a university on a full-time basis as such attendance may enhance the social standing of the parents.
Are university students who experience difficulty coping with the rigors and demands of university learning therefore mentally ill? Over a period of several years, several university students of Asian background who lived in the Greater Toronto Area ended their lives after the end of the academic year. In some Asian societies, a samurai will “fall onto his own sword” as an act of honor and integrity. Some modern academic samurai have ended their lives for having fallen short of achieving some ideal of academic perfection.
While academics at elite schools ridicule and dismiss the idea of learner-paced instruction, many institutions now offer online learner-paced programs and related programs on compact discs. In the real world of business and technology where people need to apply knowledge to solve problems, many so-called academic failures who switched from universities into learner-paced programs have actually achieved remarkable success. The real world test is measured in sales and satisfied repeat customers. At the present time, several thousand university-educated graduates work as cashiers, store clerks, parking lot attendants, taxi drivers, labourers, waiters and waitresses.
Some 60 years ago, American motivational speaker Earl Nightingale suggested a secret, that “people become what they think about,” or “as a man thinketh.” All religions tell devotees to ask only for spiritual gifts, and a prayer for humility written long ago reads, “I want the courage and inner strength of humility” that a devotee needs to keep in his or her field of vision throughout the day. A series of interviews with people, who endured bouts of depression and even considered suicide, revealed that many of them engaged in ongoing negative self-talk.
Depressed people often entertain negative self-statements such as “I’m no good at X” and “I’ll never be able to Y.” There may be more negative self-talk today than there once was due to governments having undermined the roles of religion, spirituality, and extended and supportive families in people’s lives. At an earlier time, people depended on spirituality and family support to carry them through challenging times. In this modern era, state medicine defines the emotions of people dealing with a tough challenge as “mental illness” and prescribes anti-depressant medication.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.