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Gamification is the incorporation of game-like elements into the development of health interventions. Studies have shown it to be an effective strategy for improving the mental health outcomes of the population. This text examines how gamification has been used in mental health settings, and the potential benefits and costs associated with it.
Gamification in Mental Healthcare
There is no doubt that we have had decades of research geared at developing new and more effective treatments for mental conditions ranging from autism to anxiety, from schizophrenia to depression and so on. What is rather worrying, however, is that we have very little to show for it. Mental disorders such as these continue to impact on the quality of life of a significant proportion of the population, costing the taxpayer millions of dollars every year. Currently, approximately 90 million Americans, which translates to approximately one-third of the population, suffers from some form of anxiety disorder, yet a majority of these fail to seek out treatment for the same owing to the stigma, burden and cost associated with such evidence-based treatments.
Mental health professionals are thus focusing their attention towards the development of low-burden, effective interventions for mental illness. Gamification, the introduction of game-like elements in mental health interventions, is one of the newest trends in that direction, and one that experts regard as having significant potential. This text examines the various ways through which gamification has been used to impact mental health outcomes among members of the Millennial Generation, who are also the greatest users of smartphones and other mobile devices. It is intent on showing that if properly-regulated and controlled, gamification could contribute significantly to improved mental health outcomes.
Overview of Gamification in Mental Healthcare
Gamification in mental health basically refers to the strategy of translating or embedding interventions into game formats that could range from animated graphics, to software apps and game-like interfaces accessible through mobile devices. A report by the Pew Research Center estimates that approximately 61 percent of young persons between the ages of 12 and 30 own a smartphone or some form of mobile device (Chan, Torous, Hinton & Yellowlees, 2014).
Of these, 31 percent use their devices to obtain health information from either online platforms or psychiatric patient networks (Chan et al., 2014). Today, there are numerous apps at the disposal of both patients and healthcare practitioners, and which help in among other key procedures patient record-keeping, decision support systems, patient monitoring and surveillance, health promotion, community mobilization, appointment reminders, and treatment adherence and monitoring. The overriding aim of gamyifing mental health treatments is to increase patient engagement and reduce the stigma associated with treatment appeal. Its use, however, remains limited owing to challenges of accessibility and patient privacy.
Examples of Mental Health Information Obtained through Gamification strong>
As mentioned earlier on in this text, numerous software apps have been developed to improve the mental health of the population. With the help of mobile apps and wearable devices, one can track just about every aspect of their mental health just as much as they can track their physical health. The Recover Record App, for instance, is designed as to send reminders and notifications to patients to enable them cope with their psychological disorders. For people with eating disorders, for instance, the app sends a notification at 5 a.m. everyday reminding them of the need to take breakfast (Arthur, 2015).
After eating, the patient then records on their phone what they ate, and how they felt. The procedure is repeated throughout the day, and the app acts like some form of online diary, reminding them in intervals to log her supper or eat a snack (Arthur, 2015). By recording their dietary habits and tendencies, patients are helped to cope effectively with their disorders. Besides Recovery Record, there are numerous other apps used to address a range of mental health issues; some for dealing with anxiety through breathing or meditation techniques, others for tracking mood swings and others specific to bipolar disorders, depression, phobias, and so on. Some of the most popular apps and their specific functions have been discussed in the subsections that follow.
StudentLife: the StudentLife Android App, developed by researchers at Dartmouth College, collects location, audio, and motion data from the sensors of a user’s smartphone, draws patterns from the same and uses these to predict and alert users of changes in their mental health (Bolluyt, 2014). Algorithms within the app process the data collected to obtain a clear view of their sleeping patterns communication patterns, the places they visit, their level of physical activity and so on; so if the user begins to show changes in any of these patterns, the app takes these to correlate with changes in stress, loneliness, and depression and notifies the users or their registered caregivers that there could be changes in their mental health (Bolluyt, 2014).
SelfEcho: in addition to apps geared at helping users cope with their disorders, other apps and software have been developed to assist practitioners with information about their patients. One such software is SelfEcho, which allows mental health practitioners to enroll their patients to use smartphone sensors and self-reports to record data pertaining to their daily lives. The software provides mechanisms for the practitioner to assess their patients’ progress and determine which aspects of the treatment plan are working, and which ones are not (Bolluyt, 2014). The metrics tracked by the software include base models for restfulness, worry, anxiety, guilt, physical activity, pleasure, hopefulness, positivity, and so on (Bolluyt, 2014). Practitioners can use this information to not only track progress, but also identify triggers and make better diagnoses.
My M3: this is one of the few apps that can be used by both healthcare providers and consumers. It provides a simple test that can be used to detect posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. Users take the test to help not only their practitioners, but also themselves understand whether or not they are suffering or are likely to suffer from a mood disorder (Bolluyt, 2014). This puts practitioners in a better position to make accurate diagnoses and to consequently administer effective treatments.
MindShift: this is an Android app meant to help teenagers and young persons deal with anxiety. It focuses on getting them to change the perceptions they hold about anxiety and to consequently be more willing to face it (Simon Fraser University, n.d.). It provides tips on how to devise helpful ways of thinking, how to relax, strategies for coping with everyday anxiety and so on, all of which help them control their anxiety (Simon Fraser University, n.d.).
SPARX: this is an interactive fantasy game meant to help adolescents deal with depression and anxiety (Sarasohn-Khan, 2012). Users are required to pick an avatar and then take part in a range of challenges to bring about balance in a GNAT (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts)-dominated world (Sarasohn-Khan, 2012). The game is available on CD-ROM and users play by installing the same in their devices. Research has shown SPARX to be effective in reducing levels of depression and anxiety among adolescent users (Sarasohn-Khan, 2012).
Other popular apps and mental health software include the Therapy Outcome Management System, which provides feedback to practitioners on the outcomes of therapy and counseling; the Sleep Well Be Well App; the Headspace, the Thought Diary Pro, and the My Mood Tracker. All of them, however, work almost in the same way – tracking users’ emotional well-being in correlation with their behavioral patterns (Bolluyt, 2014).
The Impact of Gamification in Mental Health Interventions
The Advantages/ Potential Benefits of Gamification
The benefits of gamification in mental health settings can be discussed from the perspective of the patient as well as that of the health practitioner.
Benefits to Patients: Mental health professionals, like any other medical practitioners, have an ethical duty to ensure that any interventions or treatment plans they use on their patients are supported by evidence (Goodman, 2003). Research has shown games to be an effective way to engage patients and enable them cope effectively with psychological disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, depression, and anxiety (Cugelman, 2013).
In her study seeking to assess the effectiveness of SPARX in reducing the level of depression and anxiety in teenagers and adolescents, for instance, Sarasohn-Khan (2012) exposed 117 students to the program for a period of three weeks and found 63% of these to have significantly lower levels of the same upon completion. Elsewhere in Finland, Lappalainen and his colleagues conducted a study to assess the effectiveness of the P4Well App and found the same to have a considerable effect on certain aspects of burnout and job strain, including over-commitment and cynicism (Lappalainen et al., 2014).
There are a number of possible explanations for the effective working of games in mental health treatments. To begin with, gamification eliminates the need to make a trip and communicate face-to-face with the mental health provider (Dennis and O’Toole, 2014). Patients can have their practitioner make diagnoses from the postings they make online, and this essentially helps them reduce the stigma associated with seeking out mental care and having to explain one’s problems to a practitioner in a face-to-face communication setting.
This helps to maintain the relationship between practitioners and their patient, and reduces the cost of obtaining help, making mental healthcare more accessible to a greater number of people. Secondly, unlike the traditional methods of administration of care, gamification allows patients to self-monitor themselves and ensure that they remain on the right track in relation to their treatment or prevention plan (Lister et al., 2014). Members of the target group spend the highest number of hours with their smartphones and mobile devices compared to members of any other age group (East and Havard, 2015). This makes self-monitoring relatively easy. From a patient’s perspective, therefore, gamification enhances psychological services and makes mental care more conveniently accessible to a greater number of people. Thus, generally gamification in the mental health setting improves the mental health status and overall well-being of the population.
Benefits to the Practitioner: the main advantage of gamification to the mental health practitioner is physical workload-reduction. It is estimated that one in every four young people experience some form of depressive disorder before they are 20 (Sarasohn-Khan, 2012). Moreover, approximately 15 percent of adolescents suffer from depression; however, there is not enough practitioners and counseling resources to address this concern (Sarasohn-Khan, 2012). There is an undersupply of medical resources to address the psychological concerns of the target population, and over 70 percent of its members end up not receiving appropriate treatment (Sarasohn-Khan, 2012). Gamification basically compensates for this shortage of counseling resources and prevents practitioners from being overworked. This places them in a better position to offer personalized care and come up with more accurate diagnoses and more effective treatment plans.
Disadvantages of Gamification
In as much as gamification enhances psychological services and improves the quality of mental health in the population, it is not without its share of disadvantages. It is these disadvantages that have limited user engagement and made it rather difficult for mobile apps and software programs to diffuse effectively among users and prospective users (East and Havard, 2015). The core ones include:
Difficulty in Securing User Information: mental health gaming programs collect lots of personal information, including names, contact details, health statuses, familial background and so on from users; and with their information-sharing functionality, privacy concerns become almost unavoidable (East and Havard, 2015). Some programs try to increase the security of their users’ records by incorporating an anonymous-sharing feature, which allows users to share information with other users anonymously (Sarasohn-Khan, 2010). Others, however, do not have this feature, making it possible for users to share personal health information amongst themselves invariably, and this places them at high risk of falling prey to unscrupulous persons.
The Requirement of Technological Literacy: technological literacy can be defined simply as the intellectual dispositions, abilities, and processes needed for a practitioner “to understand the link among technology, themselves, their clients, and a diverse society so that they may extend human abilities to satisfy” the health needs of their patients (Tyler and Sabella, 2004, p. 5). Whereas the target population of young people aged between 12 and 30 may have high levels of technological literacy, a majority of the practicing and most experienced mental care providers may not be equipped with the same level of understanding when it comes to technology. For this reason, most of these experienced care providers may be unable to take advantage of gaming platforms and hence, unable to reap the potential benefits of the same.
Accessibility of Mobile Devices: mental health games and software programs are meant for use with smartphones and other mobile devices with internet-enabled functionalities. These devices are, however, quite costly and beyond the reach of most prospective users, particularly in the rural areas. In this regard, therefore, the use of games cannot be relied upon as a substitute for face-to-face therapy and treatment sessions because it causes disparities in the administration of, and access to mental care between the rich and the poor.
Solutions for Increasing Engagement and Enhancing Diffusion
The most viable way to increase user engagement in mobile gaming programs is by developing solutions to address the disadvantages that hinder its diffusion. East and Havard (2015) propose a three-part model that could be used to achieve this. To begin with, they propose that app and gaming software developers ensure that their apps and software are HIPAA-compliant. They can do this by putting in place effective security measures such as passwords and encryption to govern information-sharing among users and ensure that information-sharing among users is regulated. This would obviously not eliminate the privacy concerns associated with the use of games in mental health interventions, but it would give app developers and administrators greater control over any information provided by users. Users will most certainly be more willing to engage with mental gaming platforms if the security of the information they provide is guaranteed.
In addition to making mobile gaming platforms HIPAA-compliant, relevant stakeholders nee to also take steps to increase the levels of counselor awareness on the potential benefits of gamification in mental health settings. This they could do by organizing professional association conferences focused on increasing their knowledge on how to use such platforms to enhance the health outcomes of their patients, and the potential benefits that could accrue from such use. Steps should also be taken to make such programs available on a wider variety of platforms such as low-cost mobile phones. For instance, app developers could create messaging services to be used by all mobile phone users and not only those with open access to the internet. This way, gaming services would become accessible to a wider range of users, particularly in the rural areas.
Gamification is a rather new aspect in the medical industry, particularly in mental health settings. Its effectiveness in helping patients and practitioners realize better mental health outcomes has, however, been proven by multiple researchers. Its effectiveness stems from the fact that it allows for the administration of timely diagnoses and allows for self-monitoring. Despite its inherent benefits to the health system, however, gamification is not without its share of disadvantages. Its main disadvantage is that it does not guarantee the privacy and security of user information as well as traditional metrics do. Moreover, not all practitioners are technologically literate, and mobile devices may also not be accessible by all prospective users, particularly those in the rural areas. These disadvantages have made it difficult for mental gaming programs to diffuse effectively among users. To increase user-engagement with the same, therefore, stakeholders will need to take relevant steps to make such platforms HIPAA-compliant, and to increase the awareness of mental care providers.
Arthur, G., 2015. Cellphone Therapy: New Apps Help Track and Treat Mental Illness. Aljazeera.com
Bolluyt, V., 2013. How Apps are Tackling Important Mental Health Issues. Cheatsheet.
Chan, S. R., Torous, J., Hinton, L., and Yellowlees, P., 2014. Mobile Tele-Mental Health: Increasing Applications and a Move to Hybrid Models of Care. Healthcare, 2(1), pp. 220-233
Cugelman, B., 2013. Gamification: What it is and why it Matters to Digital Health Behavior Change Developers. JMIR Serious Games, 1(1), pp. 1-6.
Dennis, T. A., and O’Toole, L. J., 2014. Mental Health on the Go: Effects of a Gamified Attention-Bias Modification Mobile Application in Trait-Anxious Adults. Clinical Psychology Science, 2(2), pp. 1-15
East, M. L., and Havard, B. C., 2015. Mental Health Mobile App: From Infusion to Diffusion in the Mental Health Social System. JMIR Mental Health, 2(1), pp. 1-14.
Giota, K, G., and Kleftaras, G., 2014. Mental Health Apps: Innovations, Risks and Ethical Considerations. eHealth Telecommunication Systems and Networks, 3(1), pp. 19-23.
Goodman, K. W., 2003. Ethics and Evidence-Based Medicine: Fallibility and Responsibility in Clinical Science. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press
Lister, C., West, J., Cannon, B., Sax, T., and Brodegard, D., 2014. Just a Fad: Gamification in Health and Fitness Apps. JMIR Serious Games, 2(2), pp. 1-12.
Sarasohn-Khan, J., 2010. The Online Couch: Mental Healthcare on the Web. The California Healthcare Foundation
Simon Fraser University, n.d. App of the Month: MindShift. Simon Fraser University
Torous, J., Friedman, R., and Keshavan, M., 2014. Smartphone Ownership and Interest in Mobile Applications to Monitor Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 2(1), pp. 1-8
Tyler, J. M., and Sabella R. A., 2004. Using Technology to Improve Counseling Practice: A Primer for the 21st Century. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association\
Mental Health in Children
In America today mental health is a hot button topic that society has not yet found a way to demand having a rational discussion about how to deal with the associated issues. The country alternates between stating that there is a critical need for a discussion, and critically focusing on mental health to a desire for it to be a non-issue that is not discussed. For children, this situation is even more difficult, based on the harsh reality that the mental health of many children and adolescents in America is highly neglected. “Four million children and adolescents in this country suffer from a serious mental disorder…” (NAMI, 2010). When mental health is treated by society as a non-pressing issue, the children that suffer from it are often ostracized by peers, family members and society when a diagnosis of their mental health is made and becomes known. While this ostracism may be deliberate, it could be unintentional as well. Society would rather avoid holding an informed discussion on mental illness than it would opt to aggressively tackle this social and complex subject. Due to the fear of society, and the manner in which the society treats mentally ill individuals, many parents do not seek help for their children’s illnesses. The result is that the mental illness goers undiagnosed and the child continues to suffer in silence. Unfortunately, there are instances in which this pathway results in tragic outcomes such as committing suicide or regular violent outbursts. Alternately, in cases where mental illness is acknowledged in the society, there is an evident bias in the way it is diagnosed and perceived in boys and girls. It is also noteworthy that there are some parents that often times use a diagnosis to gain an advantage for their child over other children.
This advantage could be either academic or financial in nature. Ignoring the problem of mental illness through ostracism or non-diagnosis and bias or misdiagnosis are not the proper ways to approach this growing problem in children. America needs to have a serious discussion about mental illness in children that removes the stigmas associated with such illness, as well as makes sure that it is not used to gain an unfair advantage over another. Furthermore, this discussion needs to end in the resolution of concrete steps aimed at addressing the issue of mental illness in children and adolescents. The discussion needs to focus on how to treat the various forms of mental illness, the same way that discussions are held regarding other serious childhood illness such as cancer and muscular dystrophy. A paradigm change is needed in America to properly address mental illness in children. America and its leaders need to start the dialogue to address this issue.
Social Perceptions and Receptions
The manner in which society reacts to children with mental illness has changed only slightly over the years. In the past, a child with mental illness was routinely placed in a mental institution to be warehoused out of the sight of the rest of the society. Such actions would then result in the child receiving partial treatment. The treatment was partial in the sense that the children would be treated at times while during other times they would be left to their own devices, devoid of care and attention. Nowadays, the scenario is very different. Advancements in the field of mental health have come up with medication that children can receive from the comfort of their homes or schools, such that the children do not have to suffer the absence of friendly or family love, care and attention in order to receive treatment. However, the society is still lagging behind in addressing some of the issues associated with mental health conclusively.
Frequently, children with a mental illness diagnosis are ridiculed and bullied by society, adults and other children. The harsh and abusive word “retard” is often used to emotionally abuse such children. Rather than the child getting the sympathy they would usually receive, the child with mental illness often receives a completely different response from those around them. “Stigma directed at adolescents with mental health problems came from family members, peers and teachers” (Davey, 2013). These children were viewed with suspicion, mistrust and as being less than capable by adults. The children suffer. Their pain is either borne in silence outside the view of society or it sometimes breaks out into the open when the child commits a violent act upon themselves or others.
Social and Parental Denial
Part of the society and some parents will argue that it is better to keep the diagnosis secret and not let anyone know. They posit that in this way, a child can continue to live peacefully in the society, free of the social stigma associated with mental illness. Hence they can continue to be active members of the society. “It isn’t just friends you are careful with. It’s your child’s teachers, his pediatrician and many others in his life. We all live in a society where the stigma around mental illness can stop us in our tracks. It’s far more serious than a lack of understanding” (Lambert, 2012). Based on Lambert’s (2012) observation, it is clear that virtually every member of society is capable of propagating the stigma associated with mental illness.
While the argument that keeping the diagnosis a secret may make some sense, it is in itself an escapism mechanism that parents and the society employ to avoid facing the truth. In a world where perfection and conformity are held in high esteem, having a child that suffers from a mental illness is, in essence, a “spanner in the works”. This is because a mental illness betrays the absence of the so-called “perfection” and is neither in conformity with the majority of the society. Because of this, a parent would rather ignore the real needs of their child (such as joining a special needs school for children suffering from mental illness) and instead opt to pretend their child’s illness does not exist. The irony of this situation is that it is almost as if society recognizes that the way that mental health is dealt with in children is wrong, but rather than deal with the issue, it opts to blame the child-calling them misfits and outcasts. A clear example is seen in how parents want their children to remain in regular schools even though they have a mental illness that might be better handled by a school set up to handle these mentally challenged students.
There are many examples of children with mental illness that have gone un-diagnosed only to result in tragic consequences for the individuals, their families and society at large. The child goes undiagnosed because parents and teachers do not want to believe that their child could have an illness of this nature. With the exceptions of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), society does not talk about the other types of mental illness, which form the bulk. Autism is treated as a physical disease rather than a mental one. This, too, is a gross mistake. The difference between a physical and mental disease is that the former affects an organ or the body while the latter affects the brain. In reality, they are one and the same, a condition affecting some part of the human body. There should be no difference. Children with a mental illness that has gone undetected run the risk of having the condition escalate to a worse state than it would have had it been diagnosed. This results in increased numbers of suicides in children and teenagers as a result of the despair, suffering and pain that they are constantly endure with no sign of relief. “Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth aged between 15 and 24 years. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined. Over 90 percent of children and adolescents who commit suicide have a mental disorder” (NAMI 2010). This also results in the frightening and catastrophic displays of violence that erupt from time to time. In virtually all cases of school shootings or killing of family members (once all the facts are conclusively established), show that the young individuals that commit these acts were suffering from a mental illness. An example is the recent killing of a family in Houston by the oldest son. The son killed his father, mother and younger brother. As quoted while reporting on the incident, the mother noted to a friend that something was wrong with her son, but nothing was done (Seaward, 2015).
A Light at the End of the Tunnel
However, just as society has previously rallied to defeat other childhood illness, the capacity does exist to attack and minimize mental illness in children. Society expended great effort and money to defeat the childhood killer diseases of polio and whooping cough, just to name a few. Nonetheless, the process was not easy, and there were some key milestones that the champions of this cause had to meet. The first and most important step was recognizing the problem and the suffering that was involved. Only by accepting the existence and prevalence of the diseases did they manage to overcome the said diseases. Consequently, children with those diseases were no longer shunned by society, but instead accepted as people with a medical condition that needed to be helped. However, that is not how children with mental illness are viewed. They are considered to be “freaks” or “weak”. This is not only brutal, but also insensitive. Conversely, a similar approach needs to be adopted in dealing with mental illness in children. The society needs to see mental illness as a medical condition that can and should be cured. This is because the majority of mental illnesses are curable. Additionally, there are concerted efforts to help find cures and treatments for mental illnesses in children and adults alike, and it often times boils down to finding a cure. These efforts need to be doubled if the problem of mental illness (and associated stigma) is to be overcome in the society. Society needs to see these children as individuals that need to be helped and not shunned.
Examination and Treatment Process
The examination of the issue of mental illness in children cannot just stop at the impact of being or not being diagnosed with mental illness. An examination of how mental illness is handled differently between males and female children also needs to be examined. There is a gender-based bias in some mental health diagnoses between boys and girls. In childhood, “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is diagnosed three times more often in boys than in girls…” (Gromisch, 2010). This happens in the vast majority of cases because teachers often push parents into getting a young boy a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. While these diagnoses may at times be true, at other times they are used as control measures that help the teacher maintain control of the class. In such a case, it is done to help the teacher minimize the disruptions caused by boys in the classroom. Now in all fairness there are some young boys that do suffer from ADD or ADHD. However, having it at a rate three times that of girls raises some eyebrows. This is essentially because ADD and ADHD have not been identified as illnesses that are gender-based: that is they are not illnesses that are known to affect males or females based on their genetic composition. The most plausible explanation would be that many psychologists that diagnose such diseases often have their inferences skewed due to the behavioral practices of some children, particularly boys. Hence boys are more diagnosed as having ADD and ADHD not based on the existence of actual mental health issues, but instead due to a behavioral issue that is more easily controlled by a pill, than by effort on the part of parents and teachers.
Another aspect in the way that society treats children with mental health issues is the drastic increase in the number of prescriptions that are written each year for psychotropic drugs for children. Psychotropic drugs are mood stabilizers, anti-psychotic drugs and stimulants. Rather than treat the child in the proper way, with the proper diagnosis, which may not require drugs, but only counseling, the trend seems to be writing a prescription instead. Society endorses this method because just as warehousing children in the past helped society to avoid dealing with mental illness in children, giving them a pill nowadays helps society feel that it is benefiting the child. In reality, this is a selfish choice because it pays great attention to the needs of the society while only paying lip service to the needs of the mentally ill children. The psychotropic drugs serve to cushion the outbursts and violence that these children could exhibit, and hence make it “easier” for them to live in the society. “An example is that the number of prescriptions for psychotropic drugs for US children more than doubled between 1995 and 2000” (Mercola, 2014). There is also an economic aspect to this practice, as well. The drug manufacturing companies stand to make significant profits from the increase in the prescription of these drugs, seeing that they are the only way the mentally ill can be “calmed down” and “controlled”.
This is dangerous to the society as well as the children in many ways. First and foremost is the fact that children that may not have a mental illness are prescribed a medication that will not address the true underlying issues that they may be facing. They may just have a behavioral issue that needs to be solved via concerned parenting, counseling or redirecting their energies into other activities. However, the rush to diagnose them with mental illnesses and put them on endless psychotropic prescriptions seems to be given priority today, as compared to determining the underlying causes of the problem. Also, many of these drugs are meant to be taken for a very long time, and in most instances, for life. This will be a significant economic cost to both the individuals involved and the society. However, costs are not the only impact of these drugs. “Many of the drugs have dangerous side effects including, ironically, psychotic symptoms (like hearing voices or paranoia), aggressive behavior, hostility, seizures, heart attack, delayed puberty, and more” (Mercola, 2014).
Exploitation of this Illness
Finally, mental health issues for children are also used by parents and children to gain an unfair advantage. It is a well-known fact that the medications for ADHD/ADD can be credited with being able to improve concentration and focus on the users. Due to this, they are frequently abused to provide an unfair advantage over others in an academic setting. Children that use these drugs are able to concentrate and focus for longer periods as compared to children that do not use the drugs. “Parents want their kids to excel in school, and they've heard about the illegal use of stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall for "academic doping." Hoping to obtain the drugs legally, they pressure pediatricians for them. Some even request the drugs after openly admitting they don't believe their child has ADHD” (Clayton, 2006). This exploitation is a two-faceted bone. First, parents whose children do not suffer from ADD or ADHD force pediatricians to prescribe the drugs for their children in order to obtain high academic results for their children. While doing this, they indirectly lead their children into believing they suffer from ADD and ADHD-a feat that could result in the eventual development of a “real” mental illness. Secondly, such exploitation is tantamount to medical malpractice in the case of the pediatrician. By helping parents to “steer” their children in the path of “academically doped results”, these pediatricians are only laying a platform for future mental illnesses and problems. Also, parents use mental health diagnoses to increase economic benefits for themselves and their children. Children are removed from literacy classes to prevent them from learning so that they can claim a mental deficiency or illness to obtain disability payments from the government. This is outright exploitation of children by parents.
Effects of Exploitation
Some will say using a mental health diagnosis to provide an advantage is of no harm to society. However, just like a non-diagnosis or even a diagnosis of a different type of mental illness has negative impacts, this false diagnosis also has a myriad of negative impacts. These false diagnoses cause society to view mental illness as a “con” or a “game” that individuals can play to their advantage, whether social or financial. The direct consequence of this action is the fact that such actions drive focus away from the real issues that need to be addressed regarding the serious problem that is mental illness. It reinforces many of the stereotypes that society has regarding people with mental illness. The outcome of this is that children suffering from mental illnesses are considered helpless and incapable of playing their part in the society. Consequently they are not given priority in terms of advancing themselves, their lives and possibly their careers once they join the job market. Also, it derails society from the serious nature of the issue. People who feign physical illness to gain advantage are easily identified, and if they are doing so to obtain prescription pain relievers they are in fact breaking the law and stand to face the full effect of the said law. In the case of false ADD or ADHD diagnoses, even when discovered, the individuals are not punished by the legal system. This is one of the loopholes that must be sealed to prevent the treatment of mental illness as a joke in society.
Mental Health in the United States is a subject most people would rather not discuss. For children, the situation is even worse. A diagnosis can result in ostracism from society with an enormous emotional toll on the victims. Additionally, a child could be misdiagnosed due to pressure from the parents or teacher, and in certain circumstances, their illness may not be diagnosed at all. All of those have emotional and societal impacts. This trend that skews towards either ignoring or using mental illness to control or gain advantage is not the correct path. There needs to be a more open discussion of the issues surrounding mental health in children. Until then, the children suffering from mental illnesses will continue to suffer and society will continue to be negatively impacted.
Clayton, V. (2006, September 7). Seeking straight A's, parents push for pills.
This source provides additional information on the fact that parents often push for an ADD/ADHD diagnosis not because of a real illness, but to give an unfair advantage. This source also talks about health effects and how a false ADD/ADHD diagnosis could be masking the real mental health issue. This is a news article that provides some statistical and anecdotal information. This source backs up the main objective of the thesis.
Davey, PHD, G. (13, August 20). Mental Health & Stigma.
This source provides additional information about the stigma’s and ways that children are ostracized by adults, society and other children. This is from a scholarly journal and provides statistical and anecdotal information that supports the main objectives of the thesis.
Get Informed. (2013, January 2).
This source discusses how parents deal with children with mental illness and the stigmas and lack of support that they receive from the community, friends, teachers and even insurance. It also discusses how people react to being told a child has a mental illness. This source is from that seeks to help parents deal with children with mental illness. This source will support the point that children with mental illness besides ADD or ADHD have difficult hurdles to overcome to find acceptance and help by society.
Glatter, MD, R. (2014, May 5). Does Misuse Of ADHD Medications By Students Constitute Cheating?
This source discusses the impacts of ADHD misuse by students in college. It includes a discussion of the types of students that misuse the drugs prescribe for ADHD, the impacts to health and the lack of effective programs to combat this problem. This source is a news article that outlines the reasons that kids seek out ADHD/ADD diagnoses and the drugs that help these conditions. It will support the premise that a significant number of individuals get a diagnosis to give them an unfair advantage against other students.
Lambert, L. (2012, December 20). Parents Of Mentally Ill Children: ‘We Don’t Tell You And Here’s Why’.
This article backs up the argument that society would rather not talk about mental illness. It is best left unspoken so that the individual is not stigmatized by society. This is a first-hand account from a parent with a child that suffers from mental illness.
Mercola, J. (2013, May 27). Why Are Children Prescribed Too Many Psychotropic Drugs?
This source discusses the fact that society and doctors would rather prescribe medications for children when other methods could work just as well. This is a source from a medical professional. It is one aspect of the discussion about mental illness.
NAMI - The National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2010, July 1).
This source is another statistical source. It also provides links to other source material. The statistical material and cited sources provide additional information that can be used to support and defend the thesis. This is a website that provides information on Mental illness.
Nauert, PHD, R. (2010, May 27). Teenagers Face Stigma of Mental Illness.
This source provides statistical research data on the number of children with mental illness and how they report they are treated by educators and other adults. It also shows how different approaches that parents take to behavior disorders can have an impact on the success of the child to deal with the illness. This is a scholarly source that will provide statistical as well as anecdotal information related to the topic. It will further help with the premise of the thesis that children with mental illness are treated differently than children with ADD/ADHD.
Seaward, L. (2015, February 5). Vigil held for local pastor and family.
This source provides a real time issue where an individual with mental illness reacts with violence because of his illness. This is a television new report. This backs up the argument that when mental illness is not properly treated, it can result in tragic consequences.
Stannard Gromisch, E. (2010). Gender Differences in ADHD. Psych Central.
This source provides statistical information about the differences in ADHD diagnoses in boys and girls. It also highlights the impacts of the diagnosis and how the differences in the rate of diagnosis changes over time. This is a website that compiles information. The information supports one of the objectives of the thesis.
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