Mommy, am I really bipolar? is the title of a Newsweek piece by Stuart L. Kaplan, M.D. Dr. Kaplan argues that there is no scientific evidence that bipolar disorder surfaces in childhood. Dr. Kaplan goes through the recent history of this diagnosis which began in the 1990s with the book The Bipolar Child, and he discusses how quickly psychiatry and the public rallied around this label. Judging from the force of the comments to this article, mainly all negative in regard to Dr. Kaplan’s opinion, there should be a huge blow coming to psychiatry’s credibility as it tries to backpedal on this diagnosis in children. Why should these parents believe psychiatry now?
As much as I agree with much of what Dr. Kaplan writes, there is a huge credibility problem that has been simmering along for the profession and could boil over. Since psychiatry has put all its efforts into magic bullets it has neglected to figure out how to relieve human suffering. In fact, it has gone out of its way to tell parents that it was dangerously old-fashioned to believe that maybe the family environment has a good deal to do with why the child is behaving in a certain way and that chemicals are the main solution. I would be all in favor of what Dr. Kaplan is saying, except that he undermining this position by further arguing that bipolar in children is most often ADHD, and psychiatry has chemicals to treat that. He also refers to ADHD as less trendy than bipolar. Maybe so now, but not so when my kids were in elementary school. ADD and ADHD was THE buzz with the mothers in the schoolyard. So, all Dr. Kaplan is doing is trading one diagnosis for another diagnosis that has the FDA ‘s blessing for the drugs that are used in children.
Many young parents don’t know what they believe themselves, so they believe their doctor. They believed their doctor, perhaps after initially putting up resistance (or perhaps not), when the doctor told them their child was bipolar. Now, all of a sudden, the same doctor is telling them that the child is not bipolar? How is the doctor going to explain away the drugs and the fact that their kid is still messed up? Why should the parent believe this latest fad un-diagnosis? You would think that a parent would be delighted to hear that their child is inattentive and hyperactive, rather than the more ominous bipolar, but that doesn’t seem to be what is happening with the parents who commented on this article. They are lining up behind the belief that their child is horribly, mentally ill and they don’t want the label dropped. By giving parents this option, psychiatry has created a much bigger problem that has invaded every nook and cranny of family life and parents want to hold psychiatry to it. They won’t be able, to, unfortunately.
Psychiatry should be in big trouble from these parents now that it is backpedalling on the bipolar diagnosis. Memories are short, however. The parents of under 18s now will not be the same group of parents of under 18s ten years from now. The bipolar label is going to be folded into a new label. I’ll let Dr. Kaplan explain the new think:
The tide may be turning. The American Psychiatric Association is deliberating intensely on new criteria that would dramatically restrict this fad diagnosis. One step the association is recommending is a new diagnosis called temper dysregulation disorder, a more accurate way of describing extreme irritability in children. If mental-health professionals can be persuaded to consider these alternative diagnoses, many thousands of children could be spared an unwarranted, stigmatizing label that sticks with them the rest of their lives.
The controversy over bipolar will fade, since there is a good chance the current drugs won’t get approved for use in children, anyway, and the next generation of parents will be snowed once again by the profession using new labels and different drugs.
For those who want off the merry-go-round, this latest controversy is all the more reason to rely on one’s own intuition, to expand one’s belief system, and look to emulate people who have cured themselves.