Children and Psychiatric Drugs

From a talk by Jenny Sazama, the International Liberation Reference Person for Allies to Young People, at the Allies to Young People Conference in The Netherlands, March 2006

I want to talk about psychiatric drugs. The drugging of children has skyrocketed1 in the last period. In the United States, black boys are particularly targeted. They are blamed for their reaction to racism, young people’s oppression, and men’s oppression, and then they are given drugs.

Often the rationale for drugging children is the children’s behavior in school. Schools get put in the position of encouraging parents to put their children on drugs so that under-resourced schools and classrooms can function. Class sizes are too big, and the teachers are overworked and exhausted. The “solution”—drugging children—distracts us from an unworkable situation, and from all that is going on2 in society. It ignores the fact that many young people have extremely harsh lives and need something very different from what the schools have to offer.

I was talking with two classroom teachers and finally got them to admit that they couldn’t function in their classrooms unless some of the children were taking psychiatric drugs. I said, “Then let’s say that! Let’s not say that the drugs are good for the children. Let’s say that the teachers can’t function unless the children are on drugs. Then we will have to see the situation as a problem with the system, and stop blaming it on the children.”

Psychiatric drugs are never helpful. RC policy is to strongly urge all Co-Counselors to oppose the use of psychiatric drugs, to not blame the people using them, to see the oppressive system as the source of the problem, and to discharge any distresses that interfere with their ability to take a firm stand against the use of psychiatric drugs and the concept of “mental illness.”

In the RC Community we are not yet united around this policy, and we shouldn’t pretend that we agree with it if we don’t. We each need to discharge and think for ourselves. We need to discharge our hopelessness about people, and our confusion about psychiatric drugs. We need to discharge any feeling that discharge won’t make a difference. From what I’ve seen, when people are confused it’s because they do not fully understand discharge. Even many Co-Counselors still feel hopeless that people can actually work through things with discharge.

Pharmaceutical companies, many of which are producing psychiatric drugs, are some of the most profitable companies in the world. They are producing psychiatric drugs for profit, not for helping people.

When people talk about chemical imbalances in the brain, I just listen to them and give them some information. When they tell me about “psychological imbalance,” I say, “I think people just need to cry.” If they are parents, I talk about how hard the job of parenting can be and how hard young people’s lives can be. I appreciate their children, and I appreciate them as parents. I ask them what they love about their children, because so often people focus on the “bad behavior,” not on the child. I spend much of the time listening. Then I come right out and say that the drugs do not help. People need some perspective outside of what they’re hearing—but it’s tricky, because parents feel so bad so easily and I want them to know that I’m behind them.3 Many parents agree with me. They just don’t know what else to do. They are desperate to help their children and are under great pressure to see any problem as a “disorder” that can be “solved” with psychiatric drugs.

There is no such thing as a psychological “disorder.” They are not real. There is no such thing as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). It is terror. The “disorders” are made-up names that describe distresses, and their purpose is to sell drugs for profit. From 1980 to 1995, about two hundred new “disorders” were “identified.” The more “disorders” there are that ”require” prescription drugs, the more drugs can be sold for profit.

There is an alternative: discharge. I have done workshops for parents called “Alternatives to Psychiatric Drugs” in which I give an introductory lecture about Co-Counseling and talk about discharge. We can’t forget what an amazing “tool” discharge is. We can’t forget how intelligent we, and young people, are. We can organize around this. We can try things. Try talking about it. Try organizing a support group for parents or even just a one-time meeting. Children need to see us taking a stand on this issue. We also need to give them sessions about it.

Someone in my son’s class is being given pills. I haven’t told my son exactly what the pills do. I won’t do that until he asks me specifically about them. I tell him how wonderful his friend is, how it is hard for him to follow the rules in school because he’s having lots of feelings, and that it’s fine that he has those feelings. I tell him that the rules help the school run smoothly but that the school needs more adults for the children and the adults need to listen a lot more. I tell him that because schools are not set up to be able to help his friend with his feelings, people want to change his feelings. I say that the good thing is that a lot of us are working to change this situation, including my son.

It’s important that we keep trying to think about this and that we speak out. We are not going to learn how to talk about it well until we try. We are going to make mistakes. But we will learn how not to give up, how to hold on to our own thinking, and how to bring people along with us. I don’t want us to be “liberal”4 about the drugging of children, because it is not okay. Young people are not the problem.


1 Skyrocketed means increased greatly and quickly.
2 Going on means happening.
3 In this context, I’m behind them means I support them fully.
4 In this context, “liberal” means acting like whatever is happening is okay.


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00