Thursday, March 31, 2016

Prescribing the American Dream

Prescribing the American Dream

Wash your face.
Brush your teeth.
Get dressed.
Eat your breakfast.
Pack your bag.
Take your prescription drugs.
Go to school.

Sound familiar? Maybe not to those of us who have grown up outside of the United States, but to the millions of children living in the ‘Land of the Free’ that is exactly what their daily morning routines consist of. CCHR International, a mental health watchdog, reported almost 8,500,000 American children aged 0-17 were being prescribed with psychiatric drugs. 11% of American children aged between four and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, with more than 6% taking medication.

It is not only the quantity of children diagnosed that is alarming, but also the rate of increase of those diagnosed. Go back to 1997 and only 3% of American children had been diagnosed with ADHD, a figure in line with previous averages. Between 1997 and 2003, the number of those diagnosed increased by 3% each year. Between 2003 and 2007, cases increased by 5.5% each year. This increased to 16% between 2007 and 2013. Clearly those drugs that are being prescribed are working wonders…

Now don’t mistake my sarcasm for naivety. Before changing careers I was a youth worker for 5 amazing years, working with young people from all walks of life. My most sacred memories are taking disadvantaged youth from inner city Boston, many suffering from mental health issues, and working with them in the picturesque woods of Maine. I know from first-hand experience that sometimes medication can work wonders in enabling a young person to battle whatever demons they may face. In the right context I do not dispute that medication can play an invaluable role in helping someone overcome his or her issues. But in America it has become the easy option, the ‘go to’ for doctors when faced with a hyperactive or distracted child. Prescription drugs now seem to be the number 1 option in helping young American youth fight mental health issues.

The inspiration for this article was a new song ‘Kevin’ by the US rapper Macklemore (ft Leon Bridges), aimed at the dependency of American youth on medication, the lyrics sung including ‘‘Can’t cure my disease, without killing me’’. Therein lies the paradox, the necessity of using medication to help fight mental health issues, yet you must then fight to rid yourself of the medication.

It is a thought-provoking line. What the billion-dollar drug industry doesn’t mention on the stickers of those orange, white-capped bottles is the classification the US Drug Enforcement Administration gives the majority of their stimulants. Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse and Concerta among many others are classified as Schedule II stimulant drugs which have a ‘’high potential for abuse’’ and have the potential to lead ‘’to severe psychological or physical dependence’’. Now combine the devastating potential these medications pose with the knowledge that across America thousands of doctors are conducting short, uninformative tests and subsequently prescribing millions of children with these powerful and dangerous pills. It is nothing short of a drug-infused cocktail for disaster.

What happened to children and adolescents simply exhibiting a range of behaviours because they are mentally and emotionally developing? Do these pills really hold the answer to all of these children’s ‘’behavioural issues’’? Our teenage years are perhaps the most emotionally confusing years of our lives. In the past society accepted this for what it was, an emotionally volatile and unpredictable time. Forget for a moment the ridiculous numbers presented earlier. You should see the jaw-dropping changes in a teenager’s personality when they take medication like xanex. It’s truly heart breaking to watch their personality literally slip away, their mannerisms disappearing, to be replaced with a frighteningly placid, humourless shell of a human being.  In the aforementioned song, Macklemore perhaps again puts it best describing his friend as ‘‘walking around the city, looking like a mannequin’’. This friend died from a prescription drug overdose. Seems the DEA were right about those drugs having a high potential for abuse and dependence.

This is an issue the World Health Organisation reported as threatening the achievements of modern medicine, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention classified as an epidemic, and killing more people than car accidents every year. When are we going to stop taking the lazy, ‘easy’ route, and stand up to protect our children and young people? Pharmaceutical companies need to be held accountable, doctors need to be monitored and supported in providing alternative approaches, parents need to be educated and youth need to be better engaged and understood. America, it’s time to start rethinking your approach to diagnosing and dealing with mental health issues, and to stop simply trying to prescribe doses of the American Dream.

Monday, January 20, 2014

January blues, Resolutions and Bucket Lists

So the dreary grey of January has descended upon us. People on the tube look even more depressed than usual, and the next holiday seems an awfully long way away.

And as if to subliminally tell me that I should be in the same mood, I've spent the last two weeks or so having my butt kicked by some kind of gross virus.

A consequence of that has been that my social life nosedived for a little while, but not to be deterred I attempted to use my time in bed to my advantage. I’ve spent a large portion of January mulling over this idea of resolutions, and on a larger scale ‘Bucket Lists’. For those of you who don’t know, a bucket list is a personal list people make of the top things they want to do before they die. It’s normally 100 different things so it does take quite a lot of work and effort. Now before you worry readers, I haven’t gone that far (yet)…but I have mentioned it for a specific reason.

Bucket Lists and New Years resolutions are slightly different concepts, but they are quite often greeted with a similar snort of derision and a wry smile when discussed. Although I endeavor to be an optimist and a ‘dreamer’ I’ll concede that in reality a large proportion of resolutions will fall short, and I’m sure a number of boxes will be left un-ticked on people’s bucket lists. With that clear though, why do we insist on looking at these concepts as nothing more than pipe dreams or some sort of life crisis? Have our lives shackled us to the point that anything out of the ordinary is unobtainable or unrealistic? One friend of mine went as far as to say that she didn’t make any New Years resolutions simply because she already knew she wouldn’t follow through with any of them.

I personally could never live my life with that kind of outlook, but granted some people are just inherently pessimistic. That isn’t the problem though, it’s the total apathy a lot of people have towards broadening their horizons. 

Maybe I’m on my own in this and at the risk of sounding horribly clich├ęd, but the opportunities this world has to offer are endless and not only that, there are so many personal goals that each and everyone of us can achieve. Scrap that obvious image of jumping out of a plane from your mind; I’m talking about any type of goal you want. Even if it’s something mundane, it’s still something that you may have harbored a desire for, anything from getting a pet, to getting in shape, to saying ‘I love you’ more to the people you care about.

Once you’ve conquered some smaller goals, then set yourself more challenging ones. Move abroad and experience a different culture. Sack in a job if you hate it and pursue something that you love. Compete in an Ironman. Whatever it is, it really doesn’t matter. Even if you are a pessimist, that’s ok, but just give something a go. Break the mould and open yourself up to new experiences and new memories. Above all, anything is better than pure apathy. To be scared or to lack belief is ok, because you’ve already taken the first and biggest step in taking the challenge on.

So not to be labeled as a hypocrite, while I was lying in bed sporting some very stuffy sinuses, one thumping headache and with the traditional January blues, I thought about what I wanted to take on as a challenge. I decided I wanted to challenge myself to get fit and to motivate myself I decided to sign up for something slightly daunting…a 10k Assault Course run. 

So now I’m steeling myself to be covered in mud, drenched in ice-cold water, burnt, cut and electrocuted around a 10-kilometre course. And as if that wasn’t enough I decided to try and do two in 2 consecutive weekends. A quick thank you to Jonathan Friedman for being as crazy as me and joining me on this!

But this is just me, and my weird obsessions with challenging myself physically and mentally. What about you? Don’t be that apathetic person who reads this, thinks about it for a minute and then glides serenely back into a comfort zone devoid of any real heart stopping experiences. Challenge the monotony, I dare you. Tick off the first box on your bucket list, complete your first resolution…because once you do you’ll soon see that life just becomes that little bit more breathtaking.


Friday, January 3, 2014

A week of bizarre occurences

The period of time between Christmas Day and New Years Day is somewhat bizarre in my opinion. It's filled with an extraordinary amount of leftover food, a large amount of alcohol and for 95% of people a work ethic that, if discovered the other 11 months and 3 weeks of the year, would leave you looking for another job and signing on to the dole. 

No-one really seems to know what to do with themselves during this time. And so, to help create more madness we have the ever indulgent and slightly ludicrous Boxing Day sales. Now don't get me wrong, I understand the premise, but I just cannot for the life of me fathom why people put themselves through this shopping gauntlet. Suzanne Collins, I'm certain, was using the Boxing Day sales as the basis for her Hunger Games franchise. A bloodthirsty sport, with little room for remorse or compassion, people in one day turn from selfless and generous human beings to discount price obsessed zombies. 

Why on earth do people sacrifice more of their time off work to battle the queues and store assistants caked in makeup (again akin to the Hunger Games if you have seen either of the  movies). The shopping gauntlet is now undertaken over the Christmas period, and for the January sales as well, surely we can find better things to do with our time on this strange week?

My week between Christmas Day and New Years Eve started with a family visit to London's West End and a genuinely hilarious production of Jeeves and Wooster (from P.G. Wodehouse's iconic double act). 

Stephen Mangan and Matthew MacFadyen are fantastic as the upper class buffoon Wooster and his faithful and ever patient butler Jeeves. Slapstick comedy and a theatre setting mesh incredibly well in this memorable piece and I couldn't recommend this production highly enough. A visit to Joe Allen's, a restaurant in the West End steeped in theatrical history with a classic American feel polished off a great night. 

From the London West End I headed up north to Newcastle for a reunion with my Agassiz Village family. Never to do things quietly, or sensibly for that matter, a week of drinking, partying and general stupidity ensued with friends from far and wide. Anchorman 2 was much enjoyed after many long months of waiting (yes I am a big Anchorman/Will Ferrell fan) and I rediscovered for the 100th time just how bad I am at bowling! New Years Eve was celebrated with a large amount of alcohol, a number of drinking games and a large amount of singing and hugging.

For a week that is most definitely out of the ordinary in every way, it can be a fantastic opportunity to catch up with old friends and family and eat & drink until your heart is content. If you aren't proactive, however, then be careful. You might resort to duelling with the shopping addicts of the high street in a bid to find something entertaining and productive to do with your time...and as we've established there are many better avenues to go down.

Happy New Year to you all!


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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas: What does it mean to you?

Christmas is known the world over as the ''the season of goodwill''. It is a time of year that many people hold dear in the hearts, it's a time for family, it's a time for giving thanks and it's a time for generosity.
That being said it can also be a desperate and lonely time for many people. For those without families, for those who have lost loved ones, or for those without homes among many other things, Christmas can be the most painful time of the year. This particular post isn't aimed at making you feel guilty, I'm merely trying to remind myself to be incredibly thankful for what I have. It is incredibly easy to get caught up in the corporate Christmas spectacle we are surrounded in, and even easier to forget the moral compass and beliefs that underpin to many what Christmas actually stands for.

I asked a colleague at work before Christmas what he was doing over the holiday period, fully expecting a stereotypical answer of 'seeing family' or 'eating too much'. Quite the opposite he turned to me and said he had organised to work in a shelter and soup kitchen, and that it was something he had made a habit of doing. Now I'm not for a minute insinuating that everyone should or will go out and do something along these lines over the holiday period, but it did motivate me to do something similar, if not at Christmas then at some point soon. It was warming to find that people of my age could still be selfless and compassionate, as lets face it, our generation gets a lot of stick!

It could be argued that Christmas has lost it's meaning to many people, it's religious origin has now evolved into a completely different being, driven forwards through advertising from large corporations encouraging increased expenditure over the holiday period. To many it has become almost tacky. One of the kids at the school I worked at asked me before we broke up for Christmas if I told my children (I am not a father by the way) that Santa didn't exist. Ignoring the fact that the kids at school think I'm about 15-20 years older than I am, probably with grandchildren, let alone children, it was a question I found particularly interesting. I asked why I would tell 'my children' such a thing, and the child retorted by saying 'Sir what's the point of not telling him, your son or daughter will find out in a few years anyway!' To be fair to him, it's a point well made but in my opinion he's missing the crux, which is to a child Christmas is the most magical time of the year, full of mystery and wonder. There's enough in the real world to deal with that I'm sure all of us would jump at the chance to be thrown back into the world of elves, Santa Claus and Rudolph just one more time. That innocence is what makes the Christmas period so beautiful. 

The spirit and compassion that it brings out of so many people, such as my work colleague, is what makes it so special to anyone over the age of 12. I guess the point of this blog was to see past the shop windows and the glossy TV adverts, to what Christmas really means to me. It's this idea of goodwill and of giving, the spirit of humanity and companionship that makes it so special. As a Londoner I can truly say the city changes at Christmas, people are more friendly, generous and happy. 

No matter what companies do, they can't shatter the ideals and meaning of Christmas, we'll just have to start looking a bit harder for the meaning of the festive season to each one of us, how we can act upon it, and for us to be thankful for what we have.

A belated Merry Christmas!

2014 Project: A year in the life of

My 2014 Project:

So I've decided to make a New Years resolution a few days early...I'm going to make a second attempt at writing a weekly blog. Admittedly my last blog was verging on pathetic...I managed to post 3 blogs from my travels, and had another 3 pending in my draft box. Now considering my travelling/living abroad spanned roughly two and a half years, that is very embarrassing. I could throw out a number of poor excuses, but I won't. Instead I'm going to give the whole idea another attempt.

Now that I'm back from travelling I can't pretend that my life is nearly as exciting on a daily basis, so I'm going to base it on a number of topics:

  • Daily life in London - a blog for a year of my life
  • Current Affairs (Foreign and Domestic)
  • Films and Sporting Events 
  • Anything else that really comes into mind!
If you enjoy my blogs as I put them up, please feel free to post comments and follow me for the rest of the year.