Jerome Kagan ranks as the twenty-second most eminent psychologist of the twentieth century, and he doesn’t feel as though Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is real: “Every child who’s not doing well in school is sent to see a pediatrician, and the pediatrician says: ‘It’s ADHD; here’s Ritalin.’ In fact, 90 percent of these 5.4 million (ADHD-diagnosed) kids don’t have an abnormal dopamine metabolism. The problem is, if a drug is available to doctors, they’ll make the corresponding diagnosis.”
What’s the root cause of the problem? Kagan points to the enormous profits that come as a result of prescription drug sales, and he even points out that doctors themselves stand to profit greatly from prescribing more drugs. In fact, the potential profits for one doctor alone could easily be in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Moreover, pharmaceutical companies (or “Big Pharma”) relentlessly lobby (and potentially corrupt) governments and politicians in order to maximize their profits further yet. All of these factors and more significantly contribute to more ADHD medication being prescribed regardless of whether more children—or any children—genuinely have ADHD: “If you do interviews with children and adolescents aged 12 to 19, then 40 percent can be categorized as anxious or depressed. But if you take a close look and ask how many of them are seriously impaired by this, the number shrinks to 8 percent.”
Kagan focuses on depression in the latter example, but he also argues that misdiagnosis or over-diagnosis is a widescale problem across virtually all mental health conditions. This problem is even more common pertaining to children, because they are more unpredictable in general to begin with. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), “approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011.” Kagan also highlights that the majority of people being diagnosed with ADHD are, “Children who aren’t doing well in school. It never happens to children who are doing well in school. So what about tutoring instead of teaching?”
Kagan argues that mental health professionals must immediately change the way they diagnose ADHD, depression, anxiety, and other disorders. He believes that psychiatrists and other professionals must diagnose as the majority of all doctors do, by determining the causes with as much scrutiny as the symptoms. Kagan has been heavily criticized for his views, but stands firmly behind his beliefs: “There are mentally ill people who need help. A person who buys two cars in a single day and the next day is unable to get out of bed has a bipolar disorder. . . . There are people who, either for prenatal or inherited reasons, have serious vulnerabilities in their central nervous system that predispose them to schizophrenia, bipolar disease, social anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders. We should distinguish these people.”
*This content was inspired by an amazing article that can be found here.