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Is The Modern World Killing Our Kids?
by Roslyn Ross
Teenage suicide rates have been doing more rising than falling across the world for the past decade or more and Australia is no exception. In fact we have frequently managed to have a suicide rate which ranked as the highest of all of the industrialized nations.
A national survey carried out in 2005 by Mission Australia where 11,300 young people aged between 11-19 were interviewed, revealed that nearly half considered ‘suicide/self harm’ to be the major level of concern. This was a nearly ten percent increase from the 2004 survey.
Among 20- to 24-year-old Australians, suicide accounted for a total of 180 registered deaths in 2004, at a rate of 12.9 per 100,000 for persons (20.0 for males, 5.5 for females). Suicide accounted for 24.2% of total male deaths and 16.6% of total female deaths in this age group (source: Suicides, Australia, 1994 to 2004. ABS, 2006).
So what is different about our world today which makes our children turn toward death instead of life? Most would say that give or take its flaws and failures life in Australia has, like most developed nations, continued to improve and offers more opportunities to our children than our parents or grandparents had. So what is different about our world today?
Quite a lot actually and any of it or all of it or some of it may well be factors which contribute to the mental states which push young people to take their own lives.
Some of the dramatic changes in our society over the past few decades include the use of ultrasounds in pregnancy, the higher incidence of caesarean births, the increased exposure to electricity in the home, the use of drugs like Ritalin on small children, the use of mobile phones and In Vitro Fertilisation. None of these things have been around long enough for us to truly know the impact they will have on human beings.
Take the use of ultrasounds in pregnancy for instance.
A recent study cited in the August issue of the magazine New Scientist suggests that exposure to ultrasound while pregnant may affect brain development in the fetus.
It may be that the ultrasound waves somehow disrupt the connections formed between cells as they move into their proper location, said Pasko Rakic at Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut, US, who carried out the research with colleagues.
The greater incidence of caesarean births may also be a factor. A study released in September this year revealed a much higher risk of death to newborns delivered by voluntary Caesarean section was much higher than previously believed.
Researchers have found that the neonatal mortality rate for Caesarean delivery among low-risk women is 1.77 deaths per 1,000 live births, while the rate for vaginal delivery is 0.62 deaths per 1,000. Their findings were published in this month's issue of Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care.
This study, according to the authors, is the first to examine the risk of Caesarean delivery among low-risk mothers who have no known medical reason for the operation.
"Part of the reason for the increased mortality may be that labor, unpleasant as it sometimes is for the mother, is beneficial to the baby in releasing hormones that promote healthy lung function. The physical compression of the baby during labor is also useful in removing fluid from the lungs and helping the baby prepare to breathe air."
A report published in New Scientist in 1998 suggested that babies born by elective Caesarean section may be more susceptible to schizophrenia than children born naturally.
Patricia Boksa and Bassem El-Khodor of McGill University in Montreal found that rats delivered by Caesarean section appeared normal at birth. However, in later life these rats had an overactive response to dopamine, a neuro-transmitter, and responded less well to repeated tail pinching, a standard test for stress reactions.
Again this suggests that Nature has her reasons for the experience of natural birth and that children who do not undergo that experience may be affected in some way. One would reason that a Caesarean which was carried out as a necessary emergency measure would impart different physiological and emotional ‘messages’ to both child and mother.
Not only does a baby born naturally receive large doses of hormones which will not be present in elective Caesareans but it is logical to assume that a biochemical/emotional template may be laid down by which future life experiences may be measured and which would allow the secretion of stress hormones as necessary to influence behaviour and re-establish equilibrium. In addition, a woman who gives birth naturally is empowered, both consciously and unconsciously and given the demonstrable fact that babies are to a large degree ‘emotional sponges,’ there is every reason to believe that this sense of empowerment is transmitted to the child, thus enabling a capacity to ‘trust’ the most challenging and even traumatic of experiences.
And we need to consider children born through IVF. Until IVF children have grown up and lived normally healthy lives and produced children who grow up to live normally healthy lives then we cannot say the procedure is completely ‘safe,’ and does not affect human function in some way.
Recent research suggests that couples with fertility problems are three times more likely to have a child with serious conditions like autism and cerebral palsy and that fertility treatments such as IVF may also contribute. In fact a Swedish study found fertility treatment can triple the chances of a child being born with cerebral palsy. In addition there are suggestions that learning difficulties and ongoing health problems are associated with IVF which are not completely explained by the higher incidence of multiple births which result from the procedure.
This is hardly surprising given that IVF allows people to become parents against the rules of nature. Nature in her wisdom works to ‘weed out’ that which is less viable. IVF seeks to create from that which is less viable and uses drugs, chemicals and intrusive procedures, any of which may have a major impact on the human organism, to do so. What would be more surprising is that there is no impact at all from this intervention rather than discovering that it did impact upon the resulting human being.
Another dramatic change in our lives has been the increased exposure to electricity in the home given the amount of electrical equipment which most homes now possess and the time children spend in front of television sets and computers.
A two-part study of the effects of electricity on the human body has concluded that short- or long-term exposure to the phenomena may be responsible for the untimely demise of millions of brain cells.
"It was quite a jolt," said Dr. Abe C. Diesey, who supervised the study. "We went into the study expecting to find no harmful effects at all, particularly considering the acceptance and ubiquity of electricity in all industrialized societies. Instead we found the exact opposite. The results were, in a word, electrifying."
"We found a direct, linear correlation between electricity exposure and brain cell deactivation and decay, even at comparatively low exposure levels," said Dr. Diesey. "The more time our test subjects spent near electrical devices and the closer they were to them, the greater the rate of brain cell attrition."
How many children now sleep in rooms alongside computers, television sets, clocks and even cordless telephones or mobiles, exposed to higher levels of electricity, even when equipment has been turned off, than ever before? And how many of those same children will then spend a large part of their day sitting in front of a computer or television set or perhaps even talking on the phone? There’s no doubt that teenagers and young adults are exposed in this way and perhaps affected more than they might think.
Last year a report from the UK’s Health Protection Agency acknowledged for the first time that people can suffer nausea, headaches and muscle pains when exposed to electromagnetic fields from mobile phones, electricity pylons and computer screens.
There is no denying that children and teenagers are bombarded by electromagnetic fields in a way that they have never been before in human history.
And neither have they been drugged as much, nor at such young ages, with toddlers now being prescribed mind-altering pharmaceuticals like Ritalin.
A report in the Medical Journal of Australia last November said Australia and New Zealand have the third-highest rate in the world of Ritalin use, after the United States and Canada.
University of Queensland figures show that legal use of dexamphetamine in Australia has risen from 8.3 million tablets prescribed in 1984 to 38.4 million tablets in 2001. Over the same period, Ritalin prescriptions rose from 1.5 million tablets to 19.3 million. It is estimated that at least 50,000 children are now on drugs prescribed for ADHD, a condition which some experts do not believe really exists.
Ritalin by the way is a Methylphenidate, a central nervous system stimulant with properties similar to those of the widely-abused amphetamines known as ‘ice’ or ‘speed.’ Schoolchildren today don’t line up for milk but for drugs and as one Queensland teacher said:
"As an early childhood teacher, it breaks my heart to have to administer [these drugs] to children as young as three and then to see them spend their day in a zombie-like state."
Critics list among the problems with drugs like Ritalin the fact children on them tend not to grow as tall as they might otherwise. There are also concerns that a child's intelligence, creativity and spontaneity may be dampened.
At a recent Youth Affairs Network Queensland conference, US psychologist Dr Bob Jacobs said that doctors and pharmaceutical companies had turned behavioral problems in children into a disorder.
He voiced concern that misdiagnoses resulted in youngsters being prescribed powerful drugs like Ritalin, which may affect their long-term mental and physical development.
Dr Jacobs said that in the United States in 2001, pharmaceutical companies made more than $600 million in profits just on stimulant drugs used for attention deficit disorders.
"If ADHD doesn't exist, those hundreds of millions of dollars in profits go away."
American neurologist Dr. Fred Baughman Jr., in 1998 wrote in a letter to the then Attorney General Janet Reno, that the representation of ADHD as a disease and the drugging of millions of normal children was "the single, biggest heath care fraud in U.S. history."
According to Baughman, 500,000 children were diagnosed ADHD in 1985 and between 5 and 7 million were today.
And Australian kids are on the same ‘binge’ with drugs pushed by their desperate parents, troubled teachers and pressured doctors.
Grief counsellor Mal McKissock, says drugs are also being used for children who are grieving. He compared the use of prescription drugs to legalised child abuse.
"Prescribing anti-depressants to bereaved kids with no history of depression is actually abuse, it's doing harm," Mr McKissock said.
Mr McKissock said that by the time some children reached him they had been drugged to the eyeballs with anti depressants, by doctors treating grief like clinical depression.
"If you put the developing brain on anti-depressants, then when you withdraw them, as an adult they develop actual depression, social withdrawal behaviours," Mr McKissock said.
"So we're actually changing the brain structure by using those with kids."
Even more troubling is the fact that many of these drugs have been linked with suicide and in the US some of them carry youth suicide warnings. Australian doctors wrote 250,000 antidepressant prescriptions for children and adolescents in 2003.
A report from the Alliance for Human Research Protection said:
"In light of recent revelations about the severe risks associated with antidepressants, the soaring prescribing of these drugs for children and adolescents is raising concern in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the US. National, international, and local media are focusing on the issue of drug safety and breach of scientific integrity in medical reports. Public awareness about evidence that these drugs have triggered violent outbursts and suicidal / homicidal acts in some individuals--is beginning to be reflected in the courts."
Dr. George Halasz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Monash Medical Centre (Au), has no doubt that antidepressants are over-prescribed for children and says the scariest thing is that no-one knows the risks of anti-depressant drugs for children.
"I believe there is a manufactured epidemic going on."
Dr Halasz believes depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are misdiagnosed in children. For example, grief can be misread as depression and could lead to children being medicated and tagged as "flawed products".
Ten years ago, 46,000 Australian children were on dexamphetamines such as Ritalin. The number has risen to a staggering 246,000 and there has been a similar rise in the use of anti-depressants.
With so many of our children popping pills it behooves us to look more closely at the drugs themselves and the impact they might have in the longterm on psychological and emotional wellbeing.
A report released in Sweden last year by the Swedish Medical Products Agency showed that Ritalin, prescribed to children with the diagnosis ADHD, causes depression and has led to suicides and suicide attempts.
And even at ‘best’ they have side effects, the most commonly reported being the loss of appetite, serious weight loss, insomnia, depression, headaches, stomachaches, bed-wetting, irritability and dizziness. Reports also indicate severe psychological effects. A large percentage of children become robotic, lethargic, depressed, or withdrawn on stimulants, and withdrawal from them can cause emotional suffering, including depression, exhaustion, and suicide.
There are probably many factors which contribute to our high levels of youth suicide and some of those mentioned here may in fact have little or no impact, but I doubt that the increased tendency to ‘drug our children’ is one of them. But there is unlikely to be one single cause for the hopelessness and helplessness which so many young people clearly feel and if it is the modern world and its ‘advances’ which is killing our children we need to understand how and why it is doing it if we are to save them.