As I mentioned earlier, I began my clinical detective work because families seemed to be saying, "Something is wrong." I believe we can now see what is wrong. Families are struggling with chronic stress of children and parents. There is no question that statistics and individual stories can be manipulated, that there can be many various causes behind a particular statistic or outcome, and that claims that our children are utterly worse off than they were even a generation ago must be taken with a grain of salt. There are many ways in which our children are flourishing.
Nevertheless, surveys, expert analyses, and anecdotal information do show a profound sense of anxiety in families and in social systems that are set up to care for children. Taking all this information into consideration, the Gurian Institute team decided to collect quantitative data on stress-related illness among children to see to what extent it had increased in the last two generations. Kathy Stevens, our training director, Mittie Pedraza, our parent programs coordinator, and our attachment specialist, Pat Crum, were especially helpful in compiling these rather frightening but also, I hope, revolution-inspiring statistics described in the Did You Know? box--statistics indicating not only that our children are showing the same symptomatology chronically stressed adults show but also that, in general, the basic mental health of our children is in significant decline.
Did You Know?
Child depression rates in the United States have jumped exponentially in the last decade. Between 1995 and 2002, the number of hospital visits for depression among seven- to seventeen-year-olds jumped from 1.44 million to 3.22 million. The majority of these children are girls. The number of girls under six who are taking antidepressants and similar drugs has jumped to over a million.
Over four million U.S. boys are on Ritalin or other mind- and mood-altering drugs. They are being medicated at ever younger ages, even though the FDA has not approved these drugs for these age groups. In general, the use of antipsychotic drugs for both girls and boys has jumped fivefold in the seven years between 1995 and 2002.
Increasingly, the minds of our children are growing up to be antisocial. Children diagnosed with Antisocial Person-ality Disorder now number in the millions. As the Carnegie-Mellon survey notes, our primary social response to the new antisocial nature of children has not been to rethink how we raise them, but rather to expand punishment and incarceration systems. A Department of Justice study reports that at our present rates of incarceration, one in twenty babies born in the United States today will spend some part of life incarcerated. As of 2004, 1 in every 138 U.S. residents was in prison.
More than seven million U.S. girls struggle now with eating disorders--quite often their brains' serotonin levels are so askew in their high-pressure lives that they must excessively diet, vomit food, and impede their own physical maturation just to rebalance themselves.
Just under two million girls each year cut themselves with knives and other sharp objects in response to desperation and need for emotional contact.
Millions of adolescent children abuse substances and binge drink. (Boys especially fit in the latter category.) These children seek emotional relief and escape from pressure through means other than healthy human contact and healthy personal growth.