My hospital has, among other distinctions, a pediatric psych unit. You may well ask, what on earth is a pediatric psych unit? Now that it’s fashionable to diagnose not only 15-year-olds, not only 10-year-olds, but even 7 and 5-year-olds with psychiatric diseases, sooner or later children will turn up who are “not doing well on medications,” and by somebody’s standard need to be admitted to the hospital.

It makes me sick to see these poor children in the ER with this diagnosis on their charts. To my mind, drugging your 7-year-old with high-powered anti-schizophrenic medications like abilify and zyprexa (remember the horrible side effect profile of most of these drugs: zyprexa is well-proven to cause diabetes, for instance) is downright child abuse; not to mention then allowing strangers to incarcerate them in a “hospital” because they’re not behaving the way you want them to.

The usual story is that they’re being violent at school: kicking, hitting, maybe even biting the staff. Folks, since when is a 50-pound child a threat to anyone? Are you really telling me you can’t control a normal-sized first grader? You have to admit him to the hospital for this? The problem with these children is that their parents are too lazy to discipline them properly. I support corporal punishment; which these children clearly haven’t had enough of. Now, once they’re this violent, I could see an argument that more violence of any kind in response won’t help. Ok, fine. But I guarantee you that anyone, if put in an empty room and left strictly alone, will quiet down sooner or later. Maybe two hours later. But far better that their parents or teachers should spend that time watching out of the corner of their eye (rather than giving the child a wrestling match and a shouting match, the way he wants), than that these little children should be institutionalized at this age.

Can you think of a worse thing to do to a child who’s already having trouble adjusting to the world, whose family situation is no doubt very fluid and unreliable, than to take him away from everything he knows and put him in the four walls of a hospital?

The crowning irony is that these children, here in the ER, seem well-behaved. They’re not bouncing off the walls, or yelling, or demanding anything. They sit quietly, smile at us, cooperate with everything. If there’s any point where they can be got to do this, then with proper encouragement, they can do it all the time. Most often, their family will say in bewilderment that the child is fairly cooperative at home; maybe annoying, but not completely out of hand. It’s only at school that they go completely wild. Maybe because they’re locked up all day with peers who are having just as much trouble as them?

These children are being abused. I hate to think of what their lives will be like in ten or fifteen years, when they become young adults who’ve never been given the chance to cope with the world except through the film of psychiatric drugs.