A group of US. Academics ranked the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century in 2002 and they put Kagan in 22nd place, even above Carl Jung (the founder of analytical psychology-23rd)and above Ivan Pavlov (who discovered the Pavlovian reflex-24).
So it may be surprising for you to learn that Kagan believes the diagnosis of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is an invention which mainly benefits the pharmaceutical industry and psychiatrists.
Kagan is well-known for his pioneering work in developmental psychology at Harvard University where he has spent decades observing and documenting how babies and small children grow, measuring them, testing their reactions and once they’ve learned to speak, questioning them over and over again. He is an exceptional and highly-regarded researcher.
Mislabeling Mental Illness
In an interview with Spiegel, Kagan addressed the skyrocketing rates of ADHD in America. He attributes to “fuzzy diagnostic practices” and illustrated his point with the following example:
“Let’s go back 50 years. We have a 7-year-old child who is bored in school and disrupts classes. Back then, he was called lazy. Today, he is said to suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). That’s why the numbers have soared,” says Kegan in the interview.
When asked about his opinion on the disorder, Kegan told the Spiegel that he believes ADHD is an invention. He thinks that if a child is not doing well in school, the pediatrician gives that child Ritalin, since the cure is available to the doctors and they give the diagnosis.
According to Kagan, the fact that millions of American children who are inaccurately diagnosed as mentally ill because they think there is something fundamentally wrong with them is devastating.
Besides being a psychologist is determined to raise the alarm about this trend, Kagan and others feel they’re up against “an enormously powerful alliance: pharmaceutical companies that are making billions, and a profession that is self-interested.”
Kagan himself suffered from inner restlessness and stuttering as a child, but his mother told him that there was nothing wrong with him, only that his mind was working faster than his tongue.
He thought at the time: “Gee, that’s great, I’m only stuttering because I’m so smart.” If he had been born in the present era, he most likely would have been classified as mentally ill.
However, ADHD isn’t the only mental illness epidemic among children that worries Kagan. Depression is another mental illness that almost started in 1987, when about one in 400 American teenagers was using an antidepressant and the numbers leaped to one in 40 by 2002.
Kegan believes that depression is also another overused diagnosis, simply because the pills are available. Instead of immediately resorting to pharmaceutical drugs, he thinks doctors should take more time with the child to find out why they aren’t as cheerful.
Since studies have shown that people who have heightened activity in the right frontal lobe respond poorly to antidepressants a few tests should be carried out (an EEG for certain).
It’s very important for distinction to be made: when a life event overwhelms us, it’s common to fall into a depression for a while, but there are those who have a genetic vulnerability and experience chronic depression.
It’s crucial to look not only at the symptoms, but the causes :the former are experiencing a certain depression caused by an event and the latter are mentally ill.
Psychiatry it’s the only medical profession that establishes illness on symptoms alone and such a blind spot opens the door for new maladies — like bipolar disorder, which we never used to see in children. Acording to statistics,nearly a million Americans under the age of 19 are diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“A group of doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital just started calling kids who had temper tantrums bipolar. They shouldn’t have done that. But the drug companies loved it because drugs against bipolar disorders are expensive.
That’s how the trend was started. It’s a little like in the 15th century, when people started thinking someone could be possessed by the devil or hexed by a witch,” said Kagan.
About the alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs for behavioral abnormalities Kagan said that we could look at tutoring, as an example. It’s a good start since children who are diagnosed with ADHD are mainly the children who are struggling at school.
Written by Simon Segal
A professional writer with years of continual practice. His experience in writing varies from science to psychology and spirituality. He also teaches academic and creative writing.