Labelling Kids

milkboys reader Olias found this video and while I certainly don’t share the sentiment that every mental illness diagnosed in kids is bogus I still thought the clip is brining up an interesting point. Noteworthy: the organisation behind this campaign is sponsored by Scientology.


51 thoughts on “Labelling Kids”

  1. Let them choose their own labels is good. Ignore their problems is bad. Many hands make light work is good. Too many cooks spoil the broth is bad.

    The message is far too simplistic to take seriously. What does it say? That you ought not to classify people? Surely, if you don’t society cannot function. We cannot have the cack-handed doing brain surgery. If ADHD or Dyslexia are real then it is surely good to recognise them and do something to help people overcome whatever difficulty it is they have. There is lots of argument about exactly what to do.

    And when people advertise in a way that makes it hard to disagree and easy to agree with their aims they are part of the way to converting you to an adherent of their cause.

    Do you WANT to be a scientologist?

    1. Much as I hate to agree with the Scientologists, NO group is ever 100% wrong. We seriously need to stop ‘diagnosing’ every problem kids have as a ‘psychiatric disorder’. Some things are less disorders, and more people being individuals. This is not to say that the disorders do not exist at all, but more to say that they are VASTLY over diagnosed. I once tried to add up the percentages of mental disorders in kids, and came up with a number over 1000%. That’s *3* zero’s. As in 10 times the numbers of kids with disorders than there are KIDS. Put another way, this would mean that every child, on average, has about 10 separate disorders. If thatg doesn’t scream the words “over diagnosed” and “ERROR DOES NOT COMPUTE” nothing does

      From personal experience, I know that, for example, even back in the 1970’s ADHD (called ADD back then) is *way* over diagnosed. I’ve also seen recent attempts to connect all of these ‘disorders’ to autism. This sort of thing NEEDS to stop. NOW.

      1. I’m with you 100% on your comment. I am NOT in agreement w/ Scientology in any way, but they are anti-pyschology in this way. And as you say, no group is ever 100% wrong.

      2. >NO group is ever 100% wrong.

        Had to laugh at that. You’re right. It’s statistically impossible.

        On the other hand, another way to look at ADHD would be as a symptom, rather than as a disease itself. I can’t find a reference for it, but I read about a high school which changed its start time to 10am (reflecting that most teenagers’ internal clocks are skewed nightward). Interestingly, their incidence of ADHD dropped significantly. It didn’t disappear completely, but it seems that a lot of students were having trouble concentrating simply because they were worn out. They say kids need about 10 hours of sleep a night, up into early adulthood. I wonder how many kids are taking Ritalin because they’re not getting enough sleep?

        I believe you’ve got two basic types of ADHD diagnosis: those who really don’t have a biological or physical problem versus those who exhibit true ADHD symptoms–but probably have a variety of underlying causes. It’s like taking the flu, the common cold, West Nile, and SARS and lumping them altogether as “cough syndrome.” How much research is being done on the [i]causes[/i] of ADHD?

        Hm. It’s my understanding that most diagnosis in psychology is done using question/answers, not blood tests, brain scans or the like. Thus, if a 20 year-old were to somehow contract Alzheimer’s and were taken to see a psychologist, I’m reasonably certain that the initial diagnosis would be schizophrenia. Only when the patient began losing muscle tone would anyone question it.

        Yet we continue to label schizophrenia as a “mental” disorder when extremely similar symptoms in patients with Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and brain injuries are automatically attributed to damage to the brain. It’s interesting that, according to the Counterpunch article linked below, [i]epilepsy[/i] was listed as a mental disorder in past versions of the DSM. Anyone today claiming that epilepsy has anything at all in common with “oppositional defiant disorder” would himself be labeled feeble-minded, and rightly so.

        So there are real, physical diseases of the brain (and therefore mind), and there are psychological disorders, which just seem to be a new way to categorize deviant behavior.

        Here’s and interesting (and occasionally sci-fi-ly creepy) article in Discover about research into causes of Schizophrenia, and of all things, Multiple Sclerosis. They may be related. Who’da guessed that?

      3. But it works the other way as well, poorly; under diagnosing children. I’m ADD and dyslexic. The school system I went through missed both. Teachers continually told my parents that I was very bright, but lazy and didn’t apply myself. No one understood that every sentence on a black board (or in a book), had to be first unscrambled in my brain letter by letter before anything made any sense. And the ADD kept my patience level for this at near zero. So yeah, my school experience was just fucking great.

        So when I hear people say, “Oh, some more kids with the ‘alphabet soup disease!”…I want to drive a steel spike through their heads. And I’ll tell you this much…it gets worse as you age I’m finding out.

        I agree though; kids are often over diagnosed and medicated, but those are psychologists/counselors looking for an easy treatment through medicine. The real challenge is teaching these kids how to read & write to a national level.

        1. You are right, dyslexia does get worse with age as I am finding out. I could easily go on a rant about psychologists and counselors re: medication but I won’t.

          1. Yeah…it hit me like a ton of bricks a few yrs ago. All these yrs of struggling to hide it fairly successfully and now it’s back with a vengeance.

            Bruce….I found out quite accidentally that if you buy a Nintendo DS and those brain games like ‘Big Brain Academy’ et al, it really helps. However since the ADD has always kept me from having healthy habits…it’s been a struggle to do this everyday as suggested. Believe it or not, you will do better with the games in the morning when you get up. Even though physically we struggle in the mornings, our brain are actually quite ready for tasks after sleep.;-)

  2. two points (as devil’s advocate) for this simplistic message:
    – Try being a teacher with a seriously challenging kid. One often cannot get any of the parents attention, or support without giving the kid’s problem a label. Less a teacher’s choice than something parents etc. want to hear.
    Actually, giving them a label often helps kids: in the old days they were just ‘uncontrollable’, ‘a pain in the ass’, and punished etc. These days with the labels, they have a medical reason to be that. Takes the blame off.
    – Scientology obviously has a complex about being ‘labelled’ themselves.

    1. Actually, I think the problem isn’t so much the labels as who’s trying to hand out the labels. When teachers, school administrators, day care workers, or any one else that’s not a trained psychiatrist tries to tell parents that a kid has a mental problem is where the problem often starts.

      When I was in elementary school, the principal tried to tell my mother (a nurse) that I had ADD and I would be removed from the school if I wasn’t put on Ritalin. Luckily, my mom knew enough to threaten to report him for practicing medicine without a license, but there were a LOT of kids, in the US, in the 80’s, whose parents were bullied into putting them onto the drug unnecessarily simply because it made the kids easier to deal with… never-mind that Ritalin has a laundry list of side-effects, some of which can persist long after you stop taking it.

      Anyone can flip through a list of mental disorders and find at least a dozen they have symptoms of. The difference between actually having those disorders and not having them is that those symptoms are extreme in people that actually have the condition and it really does take a trained professional to tell the difference.

      I agree with the commercial to the point that not everybody needs to be on a drug just because they don’t think or act like a “normal” person. There are, however, some people whose brains operate so differently that they either cannot function or are a dangerous to those around them without some sort of treatment.

  3. I suffered all my life from really crippling dyslexia and dyscalculia which is often co-morbid with attentional dificulties and can also result in poor hand-eye coordination. During the 1950’s and 1960’s no one knew such learning difficulties existed. I was just labled as dumb, lazy and unmotivated. That was a real assault to my sense of self. It was such a relief during my late 40’s to finally learn what it was I was struggling with.

    1. Have you read anything about glial cells and links with dyslexia? The analogy would be a computer network sending packets back and forth with all the routing information stripped. The messages would just get displayed in whatever order the packets arrived, resulting in jumbled messages.

      1. They actually think dyslexia is just a wiring breakdown between what the eye sees and the message the brain receives. In the UK there was even a contact lens that was supposed to measurably cure dyslexia in many patients. Here in the US of course, I get no information on this…..or at least the last time I tried. Given a lifetime of living with this disorder and the failures it’s caused…it’s easy to get discouraged. You can’t even imagine unless you have it.

        1. My professional life required a good deal of very onerous and critical reading of extremely difficult theoritical works and I do very well at that as you have to patiently struggle with each sentence at a slow and back and forth pace. You just do not speed through such material. But don’t ask me to read something out loud. I sound like a 3rd grader trying to read Sally, Dick and Jane. Even today I avoid invitations to attend or conduct a reading group.

          1. It’s funny/ironic….since my parents didn’t know what to do with me, they kept sending me to extra reading classes. At first I objected of course, because I sucked at reading. After yrs of it however, my speed and comprehension improved to about ‘normal’. I could even speed read for assignments. But to really enjoy/savor reading, I have to slow it down. And for some reason, I mouth the words to myself and that helps for when I read out loud. Also, I can pick up any book from a book stand and show you diction and grammatical errors….I just can’t apply them to my own writings in a practical way. If I wait a day and go back, I can catch all my mistakes, but who has the time for that? I actually love reading/storytelling to children however! Their faces seem to give me the adrenalin I need.

  4. We are in no position to reject a wise word from any source. This is an excellent video and one I completely agree with. The fact that such a dubious group as Scientology produced it is irrelevant.

    Read the work of Ronald D. Laing. Also that of David Cooper (“The Language of Madness”), Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

    Among younger people writing today one of the most brilliant is Eugenia Tsao who brings us this same message:

    And for you Josh, from your “hero’s wall”:
    “Madness is rare in individuals—but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.”
    Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil”, §156

      1. “Every word is a prejudice.”

        -Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Wanderer and His Shadow”, aphorism 55, “The Danger Language Poses to Intellectual Freedom,” (1880).

  5. my friend’s kid was diagnosed ADHD in school but my friend refused to let him take meds for it because he “didn’t want him on drugs” now he is an 18 year old man who can’t function in society, he is finally taking the meds he needed all along and the change is huge. His father says that not letting him get the help he needed was a big mistake.
    One other thing, Scientology is a cult based on lies, so anything they say I have to be a little (a lot) skeptical of

  6. Josh, please provide us with some reference that links this group to Scientology. I need to see something more than innuendo.

      1. Thanks for that Josh.

        Nevertheless, the message is a good one. If you haven’t read some of the people I have listed you should do so. If nothing else, read Eugenia Tsao’s essay that I have linked to at CounterPunch.

        Certainly you have read Nietzsche!
        “It would be terrible to still believe in sin; on the contrary everything we do, if we need to say this a thousand times, is innocent.”
        -Nietzsche, 1881 – 82

      2. Yup, CCHR (their acronym) is the humans rights group run by Scientology. Fits.
        Not that all they do is bad, it isn’t. This in particular is a good example. They also are very anti-drugs.

  7. I liked the video very much, regardless of its source.

    The way I see it is that kids (and adults) often have to be labelled according to the psychiatric model in order to receive help. I’ve even had to agree to having my own kids labelled at times in order to receive the help they need.

    Most of the reason this was required was to fit the confines of a very rigid system. We know people have different learning styles, different strengths, different doorways and avenues to their strengths. Yet, schools, testing systems, funding, grants, medical system, etc. are often very narrow in their approaches and rigid in how one can get help or get ahead.

    I’m not opposed to noticing when people need help, but I don’t think the psychiatric labelling system is working very well. First of all, the psychiatric system doesn’t understand the syndromes very well, the labelling is over broad, generalized and generously applied. Second, the labels are recognized as negative. Third, regardless of the expertise behind the system of labels, most people are operating within bureaucratic systems when trying to get help.

    An alternative is to recognize that there are vast differences between people and that these differences can be used for good. In the Waldorf/Steiner education system, to cite one example, a teacher may place a student with one strength next to a student with another in order that each benefit from the interaction. Yes, if it is hard for a person to read because of one of the many types of dyslexia they need help — but they probably have some other skills that can be called upon to use. I worked with kids with such “disorders” for many years and always found that there were compensating factors that could be called upon.

    Thanks for finding and posting such a provocative piece!


    1. Good observations Stewart. Robert Lindner in the 1950s wrote a book “Must You Conform” which outlines many of these same issues.

      Here’s an excellent essay that gets to the heart of literacy as a false measure:

      None of these ideas are particularly new, or even radical, but since most have never heard of them, people express shock when they hear them.

    2. The mental health system in America has certainly become overly rigid, regulated and comercialized.

  8. I was denied treatment by parents with exactly that mindset, until very late. Lost three years of my life as a result.

    Overdiagnosis is bad, but not for the reasons most people think. Doctos know that what most patients have do not amount to a psychiatric disorder; this does not mean that drugs can not help with their problems – they usually do, though of course they won’t solve everything on their own. But law requires a diagnosis attached to the prescription, and that’s where things get ugly. People start believing in the labels, with their overblown implications, and the labels, on their turn, are diluted by their use in lighter, non-pathological cases – to the point that one might claim that a disease so debilitating as bipolar disorder means “an artistic temperament.” It doesn’t: it means spending months hardly getting out of bed, and months hardly with any sleep, reckless and almost incoherent. This doesn’t help people who are just going through difficult times, and is very harmful for the rest of us.

    Overdiagnosis is bad; anti-psychiatry is much, much worse.

    1. Your response does lead me to make a distinction between the education system and the medical system. While it is true that a medical professional has to attach a diagnosis in order to make a prescription, I do find that in general doctors are looking for something that will help the patient.

      On the other hand, the same diagnosis in the more bureaucratic system of education is less likely to lead to a positive response, especially when the labels are attached by administrators. Teachers, on the other hand, are a mixed lot: some can do wonders and others not — but labels have little to do with the perception, effort or outcome.


      1. I don’t think we disagree, actually. There are a lot of very questionable diagnoses in the book, like oppositional defiant disorder, that the video mentions. My personal favourite is PDD-NOS, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, which is so vague that you can hand out to practically any child. Being transexual is still an Axis-II disorder, by the way.

        But I think that the problem in the educational system stems from the flaw in the medical one. You can’t prescribe fairly harmless medication, like ritalin or zoloft, without pretending that the patient has a chronic, debilitating illness. This allows for teachers to discriminate against normal kids (if they act out, disregard them; the doctor says it’s because they are ill), and, at the same time, equates serious conditions with undesirable but normal behaviour. This of course helps no one; but blindly denying the reality of mental illness, like this video does, helps even less.

  9. Stopped reading at “sponsored by Scientology”. Anything to do with that cult is going to be corrupted. End of.

    1. Well, everything they do is aimed at pulling more people into the Scientology programs, period. End of story. That’s the long and short of it. From selling Dianetics, to taking a Communications Course, to doing a Purification program, ad infinitum.
      I know. I was there.
      But as stated earlier, no group (or any one person, probably, for that matter) is 100% wrong. Anti-drug is good. Anti-pyschology-labels is probably also a good start.

  10. Considering the incredible anti-psychiatry position of scientology, I find any video from them on the subject to be highly questionable.

  11. I’m fairly certain the internets have made us all suffer from attention deficit dis.. OH SHINY!!!

  12. Scientology is a money making scam. Decades ago I was at work and happened across a price list on a desk of its own version of psychiatric diagnostics procedures. One of the bosses must have been high up in the organisation. Once you join them you are required to undergo all sorts of compulsory psychiatric counselling, they call it auditing. You are hooked up to a device that is supposed to reveal your honesty in answering their questions. All the prices of this auditing were in the thousands of dollars, one procedure was $25,000, and this was a long time ago. Believe me, scientology believes in labels, just of their own variety, which they then charge you to alleviate. They are just out to nobble the competition, the psychiatric profession.

    1. I work with people with various disorders. The labels have taken us from the prelabel period of, they are naughty, high, unmotivated, dumb, etc, they need punishing, to, ok they have a disorder, what can we do about it, whether medication, councelling, therapy, or simply understanding. In the prelabel days often the sufferers ended up in jail, on the streets, or dead. Today they have a chance of a normal life.

      Don’t take the US situation as indicative of what happens in the rest of the world though. The US seems obsessed with the profession with every little problem being brought to their attention and being labelled so they can charge the insurance companies. Elsewhere the profession deals more with the extremes of behavior and if you have a behavioral problem, you see a councellor or pychologist first.

  13. Scientology = international sin cooperative!!!

    And founder of scientology, is a psychotic, rogue.



  14. When I grew up in the 1950s-60s we never had the psychiatric excuses kids have today – nor any of the physical ones as well. Teachers, both scholastic and phys-ed, didn’t want to hear your side of it. And we turned out just fine, thank you. No ritalin, no counseling, no shrinks, just work. Of course there were casualties -any ruthless notion gets its share, but it was certainly the best way for the most people. But back then, the USA was training the next generation to continue ‘American Exceptionalism’ and inherit world leadership. Nowadays, with schools focusing more on liberal indoctrination and social engineering than genuine scholarship, why bother caring about the kids at all?

    1. You’re certainly not speaking for those of us that really had disorders like ADD and dyslexia back then. It was a living hell that obviously you know nothing about…..especially since it was NOT diagnosed in most public schools across the country. It’s very easy now to say, “We turned out just fine…”, but some of us didn’t and still struggle to this day.

      “For most people….” yeah that’s the battle cry from homophobes as well. I think that mindset pretty much describes the ’50’s-’60’s in the US; ‘what most God fearing, *normal* people wanted, they got.’

  15. *sigh*

    Totally agree with most posters here about Scientology and their motives.

    This is an anti-mental illness ad pure and simple. Scientologists are mental illness deniers! They don’t think they really exist. It’s pure ignorance.

    I grew up with ADHD, I’d much prefer to be labelled that than ‘dumb’ or a ‘space cadet’ any day.

    Secondly, it’s a big ginormous strawman anyway. It’s not like kids with a mental illness are labelled that way any more than kids with cancer, diabetes or any other illness.

    I’ll stick with evidence based medicine and not what some ridiculous money making cult.

  16. This video is very positive and upbeat, heck even I thought by the end of this “hey that girl does look a lot happier now that she no longer is bipolar and is an artist!” All the smiles and color just makes me wanna say “yeah!” and “walk” away from this video with a smile on my face. The reality these mental issues are not just words. People do have mental health issues, and many people lives are HELL until they get a proper diagnosis. The diagnosis sets these people free, and is the first step in living BETTER lives.

    Its what can allow some of these people to become artists, leaders, inventors or wherever their life takes them.

    A misdiagnosis can be frustrating, but this video does not come at THAT issue properly, or at all really. Instead it just goes overboard in the other direction, sending a message that could hurt rather then help people who need it.

  17. I developed bipolar disorder when I was a young teenager but I went undiagnosed and untreated until I was in my 30s. My life was total hell. It was such a relief to finally find out what was wrong with me and get treatment. My life is still not perfect, but it’s a lot better. I really regret I didn’t get diagnosed when I was a kid. I wasted so much time.

    1. It shows how dangerous this crap this, “You’re not bi-polar, here paint a picture, wow you’re an artist”. That train of thought will wreck someones life.

      1. Commenters, I recommend everybody who takes an interest in the subject to watch the documentary “Stephen Fry – The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”. Trailer here: . It is a very balanced and enlightening documentary about bipolar disorder and how it affects people’s lives. It also looks into pro’s and con’s regarding the use of medication. It is Presented by Steven Fry who has first hand experience (and yes he can be serious).

        Personally I think That the bandwidth of what we think of as “normal” has narrowed. Look at it this simplistic way: Divide the people between “Normal”, “Different” and “Weird”. Make the “Weird” “Normal” by medicating them. Now the “Different” become the “Weird” and some of the “Normal” will cross over and be considered “Different”. Ofcourse we again help the “Weird” to become “Normal” by medication. As the band of normality narrows everyone will be up for medication at some point. Yes, we all like to be different, but nobody wants to be weird. Because it is the easiest solution to normalize more and more drugs are prescribed. Perhaps to much. Slightly odd people bring colour to the world.

        Medication to treat disorders changes who you are. It might be beneficial but using it should not be a light-hearted decision. Everyone feels down at some point in their lives it should not automatically be treated with medication. Should a mildly ADHD child be put on mildly ADHD drugs? If the pill to become straight would exist, would you take it? Would it help you become normal? Yes would be the easy choice and parents would give it to their kids that’s for sure.

        However if you allready are on medication do not stop taking it without consulting your doctor. Quitiing the straight pill will make you gay again. Quitting antidepressants might make you kill yourself again.

        1. To me, when you’re talking about bipolar you have to talk about “normal”, “different”, “weird”, and “broken” (or pick a less judgmental word). I don’t think “different” and “weird” are things we should be fixing. However, bipolar has a lot of “broken” that no one should have to experience.

          Suicidal thoughts are the obvious thing that everyone brings up as “broken”. One of the things I really dislike is sitting there for ten minutes not even being able to form a coherent thought. Another is not being able to focus on one thing for more than a minute or two (sometimes a lot less). There is nothing artistic or even beneficial about these things.

          Nothing has helped me overcome my problems except meds, and it took me about five years of trying different combinations to find one that worked. When I started on the meds I was deathly afraid that who I was would change. I’ll be honest that the initial side effects did make me feel like a different person. However, now I feel like my old self, minus 90% of the “broken” stuff. I did keep all the “different” and “weird” stuff that makes me me.

  18. I agree with their campaign, still hate scientology, but as mentioned before, no group can be 100% wrong.

    One thing though. If we can stop labeling people with psychiatric issues…why can’t we stop labeling anyone as gay, bisexual, transgendered, etc.????

    I’d like to for once be asked “are you seeing anyone?” and be able to say “yes, i have a boyfriend” without any mention in the ensuing conversation of the word gay or questions about my sex life or anything else that would label me.

    Because EVERY label comes with a certain amount of stigma. We are not our jobs or laziness or our medical issues or our religion or our orientation.

    I love people. ALL people, regardless of background and regardless of what they do, are doing, or have done. Labeling almost always inevitably leads to either the horrible shunning of a particular group of people or in the extreme, a mass acceptance.

    When I have to tell people “I’m gay” after they ask if I have a girlfriend, I cringe inside a little bit. Not because I’m ashamed, but because there’s always that stigma of either being seen as a perv, pedophile, slut, risk to the family unit, or because I myself hate the label of gay because it can be associated with those things.

    75% of gay guys I’ve met have been slutty and promiscuous. I don’t want to be identified as that.

  19. hey there is lots of undoubtedly interesting commentaries .. (i wonder what the average age of all respondents will turn out to be ?.. )

    no serious .. what does it mean … to be labelled ? we … are ALL unique … and in everything .. that is : also in our ABSOLUTELY personal aberations + our ABSOLUTELY personal character.

    and to know the difference one has to know either !! (charcter + abberation) which is a RARE phenomenon, that needs :

    1) freedom (of choice).
    2) sweat ..
    3) right information.

    the last is the weakest link of the 3.

    anyone saying he / she HATES scientology is pretty much misinformed.

    my advice would be to ask themselves what they really know about the subject FIRSTHAND .. or are you only parroting papers.

    scientology has 3 negative points which i could explain, but not in this forum.

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