What on earth are you thinking how can meditation be better than medication?
Well let’s ask Dr. Chris Van Tulleken who presents on a BBC 1 programme called “The doctor who gave up drugs” season 2 has just started, the content is informative with shocking statistics about how we heavily medicate our children. It was so good I watched it twice.
The main thrust in this episode is primarily children’s behaviour, those diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Dr Van Tulleken wanted to explore the possibilities of drug free alternatives, one of those alternatives being mindful meditation. As you can guess my interest was piqued, along with the alarming fact that between 2000 – 2015 there was an 800% increase in prescriptions for children.
Dr Iona Heath who was the president of the Royal College of General Practitioners (2009 -2012) said, “We are establishing a pattern of behaviours, that the perceived solution is medication.” 90% of children with a behavioural condition are on a drug that contains Methylphenidate (Ritalin).
Why parents turn to medication varies from family to family, however the main reasons seem to be:
- They can no longer cope with their child / children.
- The mood swings, outbursts and physical attacks are too frequent.
- Recommended by the GP
The sad thing is that the children and parents in this programme were in agreement, that this was not really a suitable solution. One of the boys said, “It feels like the fun is being sucked out of me”. As with all drugs there are the side effects to consider:
- Stunted growth
- Loss of appetite
Research is continually being carried out, to measure, if there is any lasting damage on these children.
Professor Susan Bögels is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, and professor of Developmental Psychopathology from the University of Amsterdam. She has been studying meditation and how it can help with negative emotions or behaviours. Her extensive scientific research on the uses of mindful meditation for children, adolescents and parents could have a serious impact on mental health along with the pharmaceutical world.
Mindfulness is already prescribed for other disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD and autism. A clear indicator that our minds and not medication can help heal us. A fascinating interview with Professor Bögels is here that discusses her research further.
The 6 children in the programme, agreed to participate in six weeks of mindful meditation. Along with a parent, the children had a group session once a week with Dr Bögels. As you can imagine the first meditation session with 6 children with ADHD, was a shambles. Dr Van Tulleken expressed his disappointment and dislike of the children. Prof. Bögels reply was brilliant, she said, “Imagine how the parents feel having this everyday, we only had an hour”. A great point.
The parents and children were shown how to focus, notice their thoughts and come back to their breath. The science of mindful meditation was explained and how the science supports this practice. Also as part of the 6 week course they were asked to practice everyday, for 2 minutes at least. When they returned for the sixth and final session the difference was astonishing in some of the children. You can make up your own mind by watching the programme.
One of the boys, called Mason, decided to have at least 2 drug free days per week. This is a very positive reaction and I hope that Mason adds more drug free days.
I realise that mindful meditation it is not a quick fix. I realise how hard it is to fit it into a daily practice. I also realise that if we don’t change our thinking, adjust our behaviour and embrace alternatives we will be pill popping into the next century.
Mason’s final comment, ‘I want to be myself, not take a tablet and be someone else’. Isn’t that what we would all like?