This is a summary of an interview with Jerome Kagan in Spiegel International Online, August 2, 2012. The interview was conducted by Johann Grolle and Samiha Shafy.
Jerome Kagan is one of the country's most influential psychologist of this century. He has done extensive research in the area of a child's development such as temperament and behavior at Harvard University for more than 30 years.
Kagan has done extensive research on children in their first months of life and determined that ill affects on children in their early months are reversible IF the child is later raised in a favorable environment.
According to Kagan, doctors are over diagnosing ADHD, ADD, bipolar and depression based on the fact that children "act skittish" or are highly reactive to situations such as noise or new people around them. He says that about 20% of all children will become anxious adults.
Kagan believes that, "Poorer families, among immigrants and minorities, mental health issues have increased. Objectively speaking, adolescents in these groups have more opportunities today than they did 50 years ago, but they are still anxious and frustrated because inequality in society has increased. The number of diagnosed cases of attention-deficit disorders and depression has increased among the poor."
Today, one in eight children are diagnosed as mentally ill. 5.4 million children have symptoms of ADHD. Kagan says that 50 years ago these kids were said to be lazy. Today they have ADHD.
He believes that the diagnosis is manufactured because he says that "90% of the 5.4 million kids diagnosed with ADHD does not have an abnormal dopamine metabolism"(said to cause ADHD).
Kagan goes on to say that of "interviews with children and adolescents aged 12 to 19...40 percent can be categorized as anxious or depressed....but only 8% are seriously impaired by this anxiety or depression." Kagan says that categorizing all 40% as being mentally ill (which needs medication) is "ridiculous." Adolescents between ages 12-19 are anxious but that is a normal state based on decisions in "life and sexual frustration".
Jerome Kagan said that at one time he might have been considered to be one of the 5.4 million children today that is diagnosed with ADHD because he stuttered. His mom told him that it was okay because his mind was just working faster than his tongue.
In 1987 depression was the number 1 epidemic among children. At that time only 1 in 400 was treated with medication. By 2002, one in 40 has been diagnosed with depression. Kagan says that depression does exist in children but a very young child suffering from sadness from a loss does not warrant medication for depression.
Depression to the extent that might need medication doesn't usually start until puberty. Kagan believes that trends are set because a doctor may overstate a diagnosis and other doctors pick up on this statement and runs with it. For instance, a group of doctors stated that kids with temper tantrums were bipolar, now most doctors who see children with temper tantrums as bipolar. Kagan says these doctors need to ask more questions before prescribing strong medications.
When asked if there were any alternatives to giving psychoactive drugs to children with behavioral abnormalities, Kagan said tutoring is an alternative. He stated that only children who aren't doing well in school are the ones diagnosed with ADHD. If that is the case then wouldn't tutoring be better than pills?
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