When science headlines compete, what’s a parent to do?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about depressed preschoolers. The New York Times ran a story in which experts say they can accurately diagnose cases of documented clinical depression in kids as young as three. This is both new (it had previously been thought that brains that young simply weren’t sophisticated enough to be depressed) and frightening (one more thing to add to the worry list).

Last week, the Times wrote another story under the headline: “Child’s Ordeal Shows Risks of Psychosis Drugs for Young.” It focused on Kyle Warren, a now-6-year-old from Louisiana who, by the age of 18 months, was on enough anti-psychotic drugs to stock a pharmacy shelf. The gist of the piece was that in a rush to diagnose and treat behavioral issues in kids, doctors are often prescribing powerful drugs with powerful side effects.

Both stories were well-reported, backed up by panels of experts and data. Both were compelling, with 6-year-old Kyle rivaled by 4-year-old Kiran, who once told his mother, referring to the family’s upcoming trip to Disney World, “Mickey lies. Dreams don’t come true.”

So what’s a parent to do? Two stories, from one of the nation’s most reputable news sources. One says we treat too much, to devastating results. One says we can treat more, and make a meaningful difference in the lives of kids.

There’s truth in both stories, which is that when there’s enough data and professional consensus among doctors to merit a diagnosis, treatment is the way to go. But sometimes I wonder whether the competing swarm of health-related headlines, delivered to a hungry audience of parents who want nothing more in the world than for their kids to be healthy, isn’t just confusing.

When is news just noise?

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