It's only fair to share…

Much work has been done over the last few years on the dangers of sitting. Whilst claims that sitting is the new smoking are way over blown, it is true that in modern western countries many of us spend too much time being sedentary. The human body is designed to be active and has been so for thousands if years.

The New York Times reports that a study in The American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology found that fidgeting is good for your health. Simple things like toe tapping, or foot wagging are good for us. Essentially this is because they are movements.

We know that the biggest effect of immobility is on the circulation. This study showed that even small movements help. Whilst not being a substitute for a walk or other more “major” movement of the body, there was an effect from these “micro movements”.

This makes sense. When on a plane you are advised to stretch your legs or even bend your ankles towards you periodically so as not to be completely stationary. Why would the same principal not apply in meetings where you may be “stuck” in one seat for hours!

And now it gets either strange or interesting, depending your view.

One diagnostic criterion for ADHD is fidgeting. Children tend to be more active than adults. Turns out that if fidgeting is good for us then medicating children (and adults) to fidget less may not be so smart.

The over diagnosis of ADHD in adults as well as children (some one in five American boys are claimed to have ADHD) is a major problem. Much attention has been focussed on over prescription of opiates (pain killers responsible for more deaths than illicit drugs) but the over prescription of amphetamine like stimulant medication has not. For those who want to read more this article on Med Page Today is an excellent start.

In turn this leads to the bigger issue of the medicalization of normal behaviour. Nowhere is this worse than in mental health. It is normal to be sad when some one close to us dies. It is normal to be anxious before an exam.

According to Spiked online students starting University in the UK are being advised that if they are procrastinating, tired, lack concentration or are not eating well – they may be “struggling with a mental health issue”. In other words the normal emotions you might expect from studying at University are now signs of illness.

Worse still, these ideas are put into the heads of students before they even start their first lecture! The line between awareness and disease mongering is a very fine one.

The next step after people are diagnosed with a mental health issue is that they will be prescribed medication. In addition to the massive blow out in prescriptions for ADHD medications there has been a massive increase in prescriptions of anti depressants. A British report shows that prescriptions for antidepressants for those aged between six and eighteen went up by one third in the last decade. This includes use of drugs, which are not even formally approved for use in this age group.

Study leader Dr Ann John told the Financial Times that this raised concerns about the medicalization of unhappiness in young people. She is right. It is normal for teenagers to feel angst. It is normal for their emotions to run the gamut from overjoyed to profoundly sad. It is called adolescence and it is not a disease needing medication.

I genuinely despair at the medicalization of life and medications being prescribed to people who do not need them. Many people do need help with their life situation – but not because they have a “disease” needing treatment”. Simple advice, guidance or a kind word would help. In fact sometimes just a good night sleep and taking a fresh look at the situation is all that is needed.

Houston, when doing something healthy like fidgeting is a diagnostic criterion for a mental health illness we have a serious problem. It is time to question the relentless march of making everyone mentally unwell. This questioning must come from the public. Don’t rely on health authorities to do it.