Sharp rise in SSI benefits for children labeled mentally ill

There is an excellent article in today’s Boston Globe, With SSI Program, A Legacy of Unintended Side Effects, about poor families with affected children receiving SSI disability benefits for mental health issues.These benefits may also spell a rise in iatrogenic disease and lifelong disability. Usually the parents will be found ineligible for receiving benefits unless their child is taking a psychiatric drug. These disability payments may serve as a disincentive for the parents, and then for the labeled child to enter the work force.

A graph on the side of the page gives these stats.

In 1990, 8.3% of the children on supplementary benefits were said to have mental health issues. Today that figure is up to 53.3%, or over half.

Of the 1.2 million low-income children nationwide who received SSI checks last year, 53 percent, or 640,000, qualified because of mental, learning, or behavioral issues, up from 8 percent in 1990. By significant margins, the top two disorders are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and delayed speech in young children, followed by autism spectrum disorders, bipolar illness, depression, and learning problems, according to the Social Security Administration, which runs this program and the $55 billion SSI system for adults.

Disturbing as well are the top “disorders” mentioned, ADHD and delayed speech. In New England, the article points out, the percentage of families receiving disability for children labeled mentally ill is even higher than elsewhere at 63%. These disability programs had been designed to help care for children with severe disabilities such as Brown’s syndrome or Celebral Palsy. When families are receiving payments for diseases of such a dubious nature, and these payments could be extended throughout the adulthood of the child being served, one has to wonder about the heavy financial burden this country may be facing in the future.

2 Responses

  1. I understand what you are trying to say here. ADD and ADHD are over-diagnosed in children these days. A child (usually a boy) who fidgets and/or misbehave is often labelled with this disorder. Very often, the child comes from a low-income home. The teachers become frustrated with the child and pressure the parents to have the child “diagnosed and treated”. These children present a classroom management problem. There is not necessarily pathology present. Often these low income children are underfed, or fed improperly. They may not have the role models necessary to learn socially acceptable behaviors. Our tax dollars would be better spent by improving school lunches. By that, I mean providing a healthy array of vegetables and preotein and eliminating all vending machines dispensing soda and other junk food that these children injest. All schools should have in place a healthy breakfast program, as well. Many of these children come to school hungry. This affects their behavior and ability to learn. However, ADD and ADHD do exist. The disagreement is….How do we treat these children. ADD drugs, such as Ritalin and other stimulants often damage a child’s health and stunt their growth, and cause different types of behavioral issues. My daughter was diagnosed with ADD and Dyscalcula at age five. I refused to have her treated with Ritalin. The school’s response was very negative. I was told she would be bussed to a school for the mentally retarded, blind, deaf, and other various disorders. A 45 minute bus trip one way. We simply picked up and moved from Indiana to the Ann Arbor area, where the schools are renowned for their excellence. She received the help she needed while mainstreamed in the public school system. The schools in Indiana told me she would never graduate from high school. She now has a Master’s degree. Of course, she received a huge amount of supplemental help at home.

    I really don’t think that 640,000 children on SSI in this country will bankrupt, or that it even seriously affects the economy. The stipends these families receive are really quite small. Entitlement programs have not been managed well in this country, it is true. But we live in a company ruled more by corporations than the government. We are watching that play out right now in Congress. After many years of fiscal mis-management by both parties…starting with Reagan….and before… we find ourselves in this financial predicament. We are in a massive recession due to bad policy by lawmakers who cave in to corporate lobbyists. Our defense budget is higher than all other countries COMBINED! This worries me. It worries me a lot less than 640,000 children who may, or may not have ADD/ADHD.

    As I stated before, ADD/ADHD are over-diagnosed, and these children are drugged routinely. That is the crime. The criminals. Psychiatrists.

    • ADHD is a fiction. This “disorder” was invented in order to deal with kids who were unruly and performed poorly in school. Rather than simply change the circumstance they find these students in, school authorities have chosen to base special treatment upon a psychiatric label. Bad news. You could call poorly performing students poorly performing students, instead you’re going to say poorly performing students have ADHD. It goes without saying, or it should go without saying anyway, that student who perform poorly in school are often in negative social environments. These social environments in turn can lead to juvenile discipline issues, and even criminal careers.

      The answer they’ve found to poor performance at school is your performance enhancing drug, that is, speed. Problem: what goes up must come down. Speed freaks crash. The drug is not nature, nor healthy, and the long term consequences of its use are negative.

      Many students presented problems to the adult world before conduct, disobedience, and concentration were twisted into “mental disorders”. Students had young bodies and minds that gradually matured into adult bodies and minds. Note: these bodies and minds developed at different rates, and they weren’t characterized as “diseased” therefore either.

      I’m glad you were able to find direction for your daughter that didn’t involve the use of ritalin, and I’m glad she went on to turn out so well with her master’s degree and all. One problem with the ADHD label is that it is a label that is being applied to problem boys much more than it is to girls, and the consequences for these boys is worse than it is for girls in most cases I suspect.

      If you are interested in pursuing the matter further the Boston Globe is continuing its investigation of poor families, SSI benefits, and children labeled “mentally ill”. The article I was referring to in the post above was actually the first in a three part series. The second article in the series, appearing yesterday, is headed A coveted benefit, a failure to follow up. Another article on the subject is out in today’s issue, Teenagers in SSI program face a cruel dilemma.

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