The Medication Generation Grows Up
By Kaitlin Bell Barnett
(Beacon Press (MA), Hardcover, 9780807001349, 256pp.)
Publication Date: April 10, 2012
List Price: $25.95*
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Over the last two decades, we have seen a dramatic spike in young people taking psychiatric medication. As new drugs have come on the market and diagnoses have proliferated, prescriptions have increased many times over. The issue has sparked heated debates, with most arguments breaking down into predictable pro-med advocacy or anti-med jeremiads. Yet, we’ve heard little from the “medicated kids” themselves.
In Dosed, Kaitlin Bell Barnett, who began taking antidepressants as a teenager, takes a nuanced look at the issue as she weaves together stories from members of this “medication generation,” exploring how drugs informed their experiences at home, in school, and with the mental health professions.
For many, taking meds has proved more complicated than merely popping a pill. The questions we all ask growing up—“Who am I?” and “What can I achieve?”—take on extra layers of complexity for kids who spend their formative years on medication. As Barnett shows, parents’ fears that “labeling” kids will hurt their self-esteem means that many young children don’t understand why they take pills at all, or what the drugs are supposed to accomplish. Teens must try to figure out whether intense emotions and risk-taking behaviors fall within the spectrum of normal adolescent angst, or whether they represent new symptoms or drug side effects. Young adults negotiate schoolwork, relationships, and the workplace, while struggling to find the right medication, dealing with breakdowns and relapses, and trying to decide whether they still need pharmaceutical treatment at all. And for some young people, what seemed like a quick fix turns into a saga of different diagnoses, symptoms, and a changing cocktail of medications.
The results of what one psychopharmacologist describes as a “giant, uncontrolled experiment” are just starting to trickle in. Barnett shows that a lack of ready answers and guidance has often proven extremely difficult for these young people as they transition from childhood to adolescence and now to adulthood. With its in-depth accounts of individual experiences combined with sociological and scientific context, Dosed provides a much-needed road map for patients, friends, parents, and those in the helping professions trying to navigate the complicated terrain of growing up on meds.
“The implications of Barnett’s book are important and unnerving.”— The Daily Beast
“The author’s clear rending of the tough questions surrounding this knotty topic should make it required reading for anyone touched by this issue.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[A] disturbing and often heartbreaking debut, journalist and blogger Barnett is...Cogent and thoughtful”—Publishers Weekly
“Kaitlin Bell Barnett’s debut is an insightful, timely analysis of an issue I have yet to see anyone confront head-on: the effects of psychotropics on a generation raised on them from a young age. Barnett takes on the topic with perspicacity and aplomb, making Dosed a book that should be read by everyone concerned about quick fixes for complex problems.”—Lauren Slater, author of Opening Skinner’s Box
“This nuanced examination of the effects of the increased use of medications to change behavior and mood in children, adolescents, and adults is a must-read for advocates and critics alike. Kaitlin Bell Barnett blends personal stories with historical perspective to paint a fascinating picture of how attitudes towards psychiatric disorders and treatment have changed in the United States over the past thirty years.”—Glen R. Elliott, emeritus professor of clinical psychiatry, the University of California, San Francisco; clinical professor (affiliated), the Stanford School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
“A skillful and knowledgeable storyteller, Kaitlin Bell Barnett uses young adult’s sagas of their childhood struggles with psychiatric diagnoses and drugs, her own included, to explore a fundamental question: What does it mean to grow up as ‘the medicated kid’? Dosed is thoughtful, potent and overdue.”—Paula Span, Contributor, the New York Times’ Science Times
“Dosed is a fascinating, well-researched, and very important book. After reading it, I hope that no parent, pediatrician or psychiatrist will give psychiatric medication to a child or adolescent without very careful consideration of the potential long-term consequences. Bell Barnett shows that these medications are often not a ‘quick fix,’ but rather have deep, lasting impact, not only on physical and emotional health, but also on a person’s core sense of self.”—Claudia M. Gold, MD, author of Keeping Your Child in Mind
"Like the other young adults she deftly portrays in a series of poignant narratives, Kaitlin Bell Barnett belongs to 'Generation Rx'—the children of the 1990s who were medicated with psychoactive drugs, and are now asking how those drugs shaped their identities. With wisdom, insight, and clear-eyed analysis, Dosed gives eloquent voice to this medicated generation, and poses tough questions—to parents, doctors, and society at large—about how we have treated our children, why, and at what cost."—Stephen S. Hall, author, Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience