Psych meds don’t turn kids into mass murderers

IMG_0905In society’s never-ending quest to deflect attention from the real problems that contribute to events such as took place last Wednesday night in Charleston, I found myself with a message from a frightened parent reading articles reading articles in her Facebook news feed like this one from the left end of our cultural spectrum or this one from the right suggesting a link between mass murder and treatment with ADHD medication, antidepressants or anxiolytics. Here’s what she said at the end of her message…

This makes me sad…,the stigma is so pervasive. My family has a history of stuff where SSRI’s have helped. Stuff like this? This doesn’t help.

As many of you are aware, I’m a physician (child psychiatrist) from a group practice that participated in a government-funded research network conducting studies designed to look at safety issues with psychiatric medications commonly prescribed to children and teens.

This statement won’t come as a surprise to any parent or caregiver who has ever tried to take their child to a specialist such as myself, but we’re plenty busy without having to go out and snatch kids from the mall in order to find enough patients to treat. Over the last 10-15 years, more and more kids who struggle with impulse control or anger management are brought to practices like mine, pediatric clinics or publicly-funded mental health centers because counseling, therapy or medicine has helped lots of kids. Treatment doesn’t help everybody and in the vast majority of cases, medication doesn’t completely eliminate the child or teen’s presenting problems, but why would we be surprised that kids on developmental trajectories marked by struggles with anger management or self-control would have been referred for mental health treatment?

Here are some facts…we have 6.4 million kids between the ages of 5 and 17 in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Between 50-60% are actively being treated with ADHD medication. 3.7% of kids ages 12-17 and 11% of Americans ages 12 and over are being treated with antidepressant medication (also used to treat anxiety). If a history of mental illness or mental health treatment were responsible for the mass shootings, we would literally have blood running in the streets.

Medication (or prior mental health treatment) hasn’t been shown to have caused ANY of these events. Each of the recent mass murders is unique…the theater shooter in Colorado as well as the gunman who shot Congresswoman Gabi Giffords had schizophrenia, the kid in California had high-functioning autism, the Sandy Hook shooter probably had more severe autism, and the Virginia Tech shooter had social anxiety.

There’s no evidence that the Charleston shooter had any mental health treatment, but he was arrested for possession of narcotics without a prescription. He planned and committed racially-motivated mass murder.

As Christians, we see ourselves as part of a larger story-good on the one side, evil on the other. Reading the accounts of what took place during the hour between the time the shooter entered and exited the church, I can’t help but observe a microcosm of the eternal battle between God and the evil one for the souls of men. From the Washington Post

Law enforcement officials said he had confessed, and that during the confession, expressed strong anti-black views. Officials characterized him as unrepentant and unashamed.

Roof told officers that he wanted word of his actions to spread, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Yet Roof also acknowledged to authorities that he had briefly reconsidered his plan during the time he spent watching the Bible study group after entering the church, two people briefed on the investigation said.

Roof said he “almost didn’t go through with it because they were so nice to him,” one of the people said, before he concluded that “I had to complete my mission.”

As he methodically fired and reloaded several times, the person said, Roof called out: “You all are taking over our country. Y’all want something to pray about? I’ll give you something to pray about.”

Charleston isn’t about a mental health problem…it’s about an problem with evil. Evil may have won the battle on Wednesday but the Bible is very clear that evil will not win the war. And for reasons discussed at length here this past Friday, our culture is very reticent to acknowledge the existence of evil.

Hate Crime

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20 (ESV)

Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said.

Amos 5:14 (ESV)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:21 (ESV)

Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

1 Peter 3:11-12 (ESV)

I’d say to parents of kids on medication…Don’t let your hearts be troubled. For every kid who took medicine and went on to become a mass murderer, there are literally millions of who never hurt anybody and were able to live happier, more productive lives and grow up to be the people God intended them to be.

For those interested in reading more on the subject, here’s an earlier post we did looking specifically at the topic of medication safety in kids and teens.


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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