Diagnosing Children with Bipolar Disorder

I am concerned that gifted, creative children, who march to a different drummer in our regimented society, are being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and threatened with a lifetime of dangerous medications and social stigma. Having that dire diagnosis imposed on you at age 6 severely compromises your ability to lead a normal life, marry, have children, go to college, have a career. How would you have reacted at age 6 if you were told you had a broken brain that could not be fixed, only treated with lifelong drugs with dangerous and/or unknown side effects? Having been diagnosed as bipolar at age 40, I know what a sentence of doom such a diagnosis too often is. I have always thanked God I had my four brilliant daughters before I learned the genetic doom that supposedly awaited them. Ages 39, 337, 33, 30, they are doing splendidly both professionally and personally.

Twenty years ago, psychiatry believed that bipolar disorder strikes in the late teens, that it was impossible to diagnose children or adolescents. Now psychiatrists occasionally diagnose bipolar disorder in four year olds, after too brief examination. Is diagnosing kids as bipolar sometimes an unthinking way to squelch kids who are divergent thinkers, who think too fast, talk too fast, question authority, get bored too easily in our increasing test-oriented schools.

Are other countries undergoing the same childhood bipolar epidemic or is this an American phenomena? When and how was the supposed epidemic of childhood bipolar disorder suddenly discovered? How many of the early pioneers were funded by drug companies? Have any longitudinal studies been done, comparing the life trajectory of kids diagnosed and medicated and of kids whose parents refuse medication? Is there any evidence that kids diagnosed as bipolar grow up to be adults with bipolar disorder?
Has the breakdown of the extended family and small, isolated families increased the number of kids in serious trouble? Why is there such a striking absence of social criticism about the so-called epidemic of bipolar children? For the last 30 years American society has conducted an experiment in having babies and toddlers cared for by a rapid turnover of strangers–not parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, neighbors, friends. Babies as young as two months spend their entire days in group care, with almost inevitable disregard for their individual temperament and biological rhythms. Parents have no choice. Both mother and father work long exhausting hours without the support of nearby grandparents, aunts, uncles. Schools are obsessed with testing, neglecting the art, music, writing, sports, exercise, play that nurture a child’s creativity.

I only have the questions, not the answers. But the psychiatrists writing the prescriptions too often are unwilling to admit they don’t know the answers either. That these drugs work is not proof of their diagnoses. I promise if any of you took an atypical anti-psychotic, you might appear calmer and more obedient.
I have personally ingested the medications now being inflicted on young kids. Even my strong intellect and excellent education could not prevail against the onslaught of depakote, for example. My IQ seemed to drop thirty points; I lost my lifelong writing ability as well as any motivation to write. Now Big Pharm runs advertisements on primetime TV and popular magazines to convince patients that atypical anti-psychotics such as abilify are the magic bullets to make their lives wonderful. Antipsychotics used to be reserved for chronic schizophrenics. Now they are used to make Alzheimer’s patients and children easier to manage.
How many psychiatrist prescribing drugs for young children have taken them? Is America in danger of regarding children as high-end luxury items that parents insist on purchasing and then demand that society should take some responsibility for them? Any decent society is committed to all children. We are the least child friendly society in the Western world. Is that why so many more of our children take psychiatric drugs?

Since therapy and daily meds have helped me, I am not denying the reality of adult bipolar disorder. I did spend ten years as a psychiatric guinea pig, taking medications far worse than my illness, I found the medication that does more good than harm through exhaustive internet research. I then found a psychiatrist willing to learn along with me how it would work. Now he prescribes that medication for many of his patients, and I didn’t get a cut:) I have always been uneasy with my diagnosis. No one suspected it when I lived in Manhattan. At my most manic, I still get the admonition “too slow” when I swipe my Metro Card through the subway turnstile.

I question whether bipolar disorder can be distinguished from normal crazy behavior of children and teenagers. At various stages,  I was convinced each of my four unruly brats was bipolar. But these spawns of Satan who have cleaned up remarkably well as adults. However, when they all return home en masse, they regress to childhood bipolar disorder again, unless their guys are around to embarrass them into adulthood:)
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About maryjograves

Children are my passion. I have 4 daughters, 5 grandkids under 5 with another on the way, 5 younger brothers, 11 nieces and nephews, 8 great nieces and nephews. I advocate a revolution for a child friendly US. I have been an editor, public librarian, social worker, and internet educator. Tweet @RedstockingGran @ChildrensWings
This entry was posted in Childhood Mental Illness, psychiatry. Bookmark the permalink.

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