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Review of "The Medicated Child"

By Marcela Gaviria and Will Cohen (Directors)
PBS, 2008
Review by Christian Perring on Mar 18th 2008
The Medicated Child

The Medicated Child broadcast on PBS in 2008 follows up on the 2001 documentary Medicating Kids which was largely about the rise in the prescription of stimulants such as Ritalin.  This new documentary focuses on the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children in teenagers, and the associated prescription of antidepressants and antipsychotic medications.  We meet several children, including DJ Koontz, a four year old boy whose doctor has prescribed him with bipolar disorder.  DJ takes several different psychotropic drugs every day.  The filmmakers interview his parents, who explain their difficult position.  They are not enthusiastic about medication, but they don't see any alternative because of DJ's rages which last half a day, and his self-harming behavior.  The documentary nevertheless highlights the lack of research on the efficacy of psychiatric medication for children, and the concerns about the possible side effects.  It explains the controversy over the possibility of diagnosing bipolar disorder in children, and the part played by the psychiatric researcher Joseph Biederman.  They were not able to interview Biederman, but they did interview Kiki Chang at Stanford Medical School, who also defends the practices of diagnosing bipolar disorder in children.  On the other side of the debate they allow psychiatric researchers to voice their skepticism about both the diagnoses, the use of medication to treat the symptoms, and the problems of getting objective knowledge when so much research is sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies.  The documentary depicts everyone involved as having good intentions and aware of the risks of the different options available to them, and simply taking different attitudes towards which risks are worth taking.  The associated PBS website has several transcripts of full interviews with those involved, along with guides for parents and a moderated discussion board.  This is an excellent resource for parents, children, and anyone teaching courses related to childhood mental disorders. 


Link: PBS website where it is possible to watch the documentary online

© 2008 Christian Perring


Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York