The Medication Generation Grows Up
By Kaitlin Bell Barnett
Beacon, 256 pp., $25.95
Sometimes, Kaitlin Bell Barnett writes, “a pill isn’t just a pill.” In this sensitive, provocative look at what she calls “the medication generation,” Barnett profiles young adults who have grown up amid rapidly changing ideas about mental illness, learning disabilities, brain science, and the role of phamaceuticals. “Some credit medication with saving their lives,” she writes, “some think it ruined portions of their lives.” No matter how they view their early experience with psychiatric diagnosis and treatment, Barnett argues, this generation has had a different relationship with medication than any that came before. Taking prescriptions to regulate moods during the emotional firestorm that is adolescence only adds to the “thorny task of separating drug from self from disorder” — raising questions that go far beyond abstract hand-wringing about overmedicated kids.
What we can learn from this first generation to reach adulthood already veterans of psychopharmacology? One clear lesson is that our current health care system is inadequate to provide the level of counseling and consistency these kids need. Of the five people Barnett profiles, one provides a particularly stark example of what not to do — growing up in foster care, Paul’s behavior problems were treated with an ever-increasing arsenal of drugs while nobody addressed his real needs for connection, trust, and respect. Elizabeth, who faced ADHD and depression, felt abandoned by parents who let her manage her own medications but rarely checked in. Barnett’s own experience with Prozac — which she says “erased my despair without making me feel stripped of myself” — lends authenticity and authority to her calls for better attention to the real needs of children and teenagers struggling to grow up whole