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Medicalization of Deviant Behaviors in Foster Children

October 12, 2012

This article is about the alarming rate at which foster children are being medicated for defiant behaviors. The article states that foster children are being medicated up to 13 times the rate of non foster children. There are a number of good reasons for foster children to display symptoms of mental illness but for most of the children the symptoms are due to distress and should not be defined as mental illness.

David Mechanic gives the definition of Mental Health in his article, Mental Heath and Mental Illness: Definitions and Perspectives. He writes, “Mental illness is a form of deviant behavior. It arises when the individuals thought processes, feelings, or behavior deviate from the usual expectations” (pg 13) He goes on to write, ” First the thoughts feelings and behaviors that are said to stem from mental illness are distressing or disruptive in some fashion. Second, the problem is believed to arise from some dysfunction in the person, some aspect of his or her mind or body is not functioning as it should” (pg 12) According to the DSM-IV mental Disorder is defined, “A clinically significant behavior or psychological pattern that is associated with present distress or disability in addition the pattern must NOT be merely an expectable and sanctioned response to an event for example, the loss of a loved one” The DSM manual goes on to explain that mental disorder must be a dysfunction within the person. Foster children have every right to be upset. Even in the most mild of cases the process of being removed from your home and placed in a new home is extremely traumatic and warrants any “deviant” emotional response that might surface.

In the case of foster children it is a little harder to tell what is a legitimate mental disorder and what is an emotional response to a stressful living environment. Foster children do experience more legitimate mental disorders due to abuse, and neglect etc… However that cannot account for the disproportionality high rates of foster children on medication for medical illness.   

Rebecca Coon


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