Some days it seems that autism is the new attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder — the latest condition being diagnosed everywhere
If only it had been diagnosed earlier in Gloria Berman's young
grandson, she wonders, maybe he wouldn't have gone through medication
hell at 6 years old.
But then, she wouldn't have produced Comfortably Numb, a
16-minute documentary — her first — in which the Tequesta resident
interviews children and doctors who rail against the over-medication of
children and speak out about their own bad experiences with side
Among them is a young woman, Nicole, a Lake Worth teen who tried to
kill herself at 16 by swallowing 25 antidepressant pills — Effexor XR.
She was taking a drug that, along with other antidepressants known as
SSRIs, has been linked to suicide and violent tendencies in children
Warnings put out by Wyeth, its manufacturer, read: EFFEXOR XR is not
approved for use in children under 18.
But Nicole was prescribed the pills, anyway, by a psychiatrist.
(The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved just one SSRI —
Prozac — for use in depressed patients under 18, and recently asked
manufacturers to mark labels with a warning statement that adults and
children taking these drugs should be monitored closely for worsening
depression or suicidal thoughts.)
"This is designed to be a wakeup call," says Berman, the novice
filmmaker, who produced the movie for less than $4,000.
"Nobody is saying don't do it (prescribe psychiatric drugs for
youngsters,) but try everything else first."
Her grandson went through a litany of misdiagnoses — ADHD,
oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar disorder — with his pills being
changed and strengthened every few months.
So distressed was Berman's daughter, Christina, about the effects on
her son, that she finally sold her home in Arizona and moved into a
small apartment so she could start a school for children with learning
problems, the disability that triggered her child's descent into
The school eventually had to close for lack of money, but Christina's
son finally got the right diagnosis — mild autism — and, says Berman,
"thrives with no medication at all."
Her own personal experience, and attending a West Palm Beach seminar
on the devastating effects of antidepressants in children under 18 —
this is a documentary with a point of view, after all — prodded her into
producing the film, which has been accepted into the Palm Beach
International Film Festival. It will be shown at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at
the Muvico at CityPlace.
A member of the International Documentary Association, Berman is
working on a second film that she hopes will offer alternative
approaches to mental health drugs for children.
"It breaks my heart to see families suffering when there are other
options and approaches," Berman says. "I see children receive diagnosis
after diagnosis. I see children who attempt suicide, children who die as
a result of taking medications. This has to stop."
You won't be neutral after viewing it.