Psychiatric Disorders in Children – Diagnosed and Medicated
I have bipolar-disorder-type-II-ultradian-cycling. I diagnosed myself when I was 20 years old, and once I finally agreed to see a doctor, he agreed sometime thereafter. My diagnosis was fairly easy for me. I’m very self-aware and I could pick out discrete moods and swings. But as a 20-year-old, in university, using research, and having a fairly high IQ, this is not terribly surprising. If I were five-years-old, the picture would have been a little different.
Epidemic of Children Diagnosed with Mental Illness
There is an epidemic of children, as young as two, being diagnosed with psychiatric disorders in North American right now. It’s made the cover of Time magazine and countless articles have been written on the phenomenon.
So, Antipsychotics are Now Approved for Children
It was once thought that disorders like bipolar did not occur before adulthood, but thoughts on this seem to be changing as diagnoses go up and more drugs are approved for treatment of children.
Antipsychotics FDA-approved for use in children (under 18) is:
- Quetiapine (Seroquel) – schizophrenia, ages 13-17; bipolar I, ages 10-17
- Olanzapine (Zyprexa) – schizophrenia and bipolar I, ages 14-17
- Risperidone (Risperdal) – schizophrenia, ages 13-17; bipolar mania, ages 10-17; autism, ages 5-16
And so on. And of course, doctors are free to prescribe any medication off label to children just like adults.
Antipsychotics Can Fuck You Up
I have been on all three of those antipsychotics and all three have fucked me up. Specifically seen has been weight gain, blood pressure changes, twitching, extreme fatigue, incurable hunger, and in the case of Geodon, psychosis. Among other things.
What Do Antipsychotics Do?
Antipsychotics turn down the dopamine in your brain. That’s what’s the do. They also turn down serotonin. These are two of the “feel good” chemicals in your brain, and you are turning these down. This seems to help with certain disorders like schizophrenia, but dopamine in integral for motivation, reinforcement, learning, and memory. If, for example, your five-year-old eats his peas, and you praise him, he feels good because a shot of dopamine is released. This then reinforces the pea-eating behavior, so that next time, he will again eat his peas. If you take away dopamine, he may not be able to make this link. And if you take away dopamine from a child’s (naturally developing) brain for a long period of time, no one has any idea what would happen.
I cannot, in any world, imagine giving these drugs to a child.
We Don’t Know How to Diagnose Bipolar In a Child
The truth is, no one knows what bipolar looks like in a child, or if it even exists. There is no diagnostic criteria in the DSM. Psychiatrists are using relaxed versions of symptoms seen in adults for diagnoses. This is patently ridiculous.
Children are Naturally Crazy
Kids blur the line between fantasy and reality. Kids act out. Kids throw tantrums. Kids ignore you. Kids break rules. Kids often don’t show a great regard for their safety or the safety of others. Kids throw broccoli across the kitchen table. Kids do, the darndest things. They’re kids. It’s what they do. None of this makes them crazy.
Recently a friend of mine was talking about a girl who hallucinated a dead robot baby. Moreover, this same girl spent her recent birthday having an elaborate funeral for a bird found dead in her back yard. Sound crazy? Not for a seven-year-old. It might be a bit unusual, but to me this speaks of intelligence creativity and compassion, not a mental disorder.
And let’s face it, some kids are very challenging to handle. Some are overly aggressive, or sad, or obstinate. They hit their sister, break a vase, or refuse to stay in their room for a time-out. This still doesn’t make them crazy, this just makes them challenging. Parents don’t get a pass just because their job is harder than they thought it was going to be.
Kids Can Be Crazy and Still Perfectly Normal
Basically, kids can have almost any pattern of behavior and still be pretty darn normal. And that doesn’t take into account all of the environment factors that are effecting kid’s behaviors. I’ve never seen great parents with a kid with huge behavioral problems. Yes, I’m sure it happens, but generally, kids are a reflection of their home lives. And kids with bad home lives don’t need or deserve drugs. They deserve better home lives.
And on top of all of this, if a child really is having behavioral problems there are specialists who can help with that, they’re called child psychologists. They help children and parents all day long. And they don’t cause weight gain and high blood pressure.
And don’t get me started on how idiotic it is to diagnose a two-year-old with a mental disorder. Two? Really? It can take an adult two years for an adult to get a diagnosis of bipolar. That sounds like a parent disorder if ever I heard of it.
Children on Antipsychotics and Other Psych Medication Seem Like Lab Rats
It feels to me like these children are being treated as lab subjects, and not real people. I am highly suspicious of any doctor that would medicate a child. Could it possibly be a reasonable thing to do? Well, maybe. But you’d be hard pressed to convince me.
Mental Illness as Self-Fullfillment
And in addition to whatever drugs are being fed to these children, they are also being saddled with a diagnosis – for the rest of their lives. As an adult it can be extremely detrimental to be labeled “crazy”, but as a child I can only imagine it would be infinitely worse. These children don’t even have a chance to find an identity before they’re told they’re crazy. How can that label not result in self-fulfillment?
Victims of Fad Diagnoses
When the movie Cybil based on a woman with “multiple personality disorder,” came out, the diagnosis of this disorder exploded across the US. A disorder that had virtually never been seen was suddenly everywhere. But over the decades that followed, medical professionals were able to determine that these were not genuine cases. In fact, some doctors feel that there has never been a documented case of “multiple personality disorder” as featured in the film. There are other disorders with similar features, but the giant outbreak seen after the film, just didn’t exist.
Is Childhood Bipolar a Fad Diagnosis?
And one has to wonder if we’re seeing something similar here. If more adults are being diagnosed as bipolar, then naturally, we are looking for markers of it at younger ages, and in their genes. We want this information to help people, to help treat the disease, but it can just as easily be used to further label people before we even know how to do it properly. Multiple personality disorder looked like a correct diagnosis until we figured out it wasn’t.
And if someone as young as a toddler gets diagnosed with some behavioral disorder, don’t these children deserve time to correct this issue via safer methods than drugs? It seems that out of an eight year life, it’s impossible that enough other treatments have been tried to warrant drugs.
Now, it’s true, I’m not a doctor, or a parent. And I do have a strongly held belief that doctors and their patients should be able to choose treatments without judgment from the outside world. But I also think any doctor worth seeing is going to try the least harmful treatment first, especially in a population that has been radically understudied. True, behavioral therapy might not work, but it’s unlikely to cause debilitating side-effects. And what about waiting for a child to grow out of behavioral issues? I hear that was a thing that used to happen. Before we got all diagnos-y.
I’m not suggesting that no one under 18 is sick, or that no one under 18 should be treated with medication. What I am suggesting is that diagnosis and treatment of children needs to be handled with extreme care and caution. I’m an adult and I give informed consent to fuck with my brain; children do not have that ability, and yet, they will be the ones that have to live with the results. They deserve every possible solution that avoids nasty, unknown side effects. Parents need to be held to a higher standard of decision-making and not pick what is easiest for them, but what is best for their child. Doctors need to be held to a higher standard to care with children, ideally with third party monitoring of underage drug-treatment. This is not something to be taken lightly on any front.
Someone needs to sanity-check the parents. Kids need to be able to act crazy, without getting labeled crazy.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.