"The bipolar child is a purely American phenomenon": An interview with Philip Dawdy
By Christopher Lane, Ph.D. on April 7, 2009 - 12:17pm in Side Effects
Philip Dawdy, a prize-winning investigative journalist, has for several years written a powerful, well-researched, and well-regarded weblog, Furious Seasons, which focuses on American psychiatry, mental health, and the way we think about treatment options. Given his intensive work on the issues, I wanted to ask him several burning questions about ADHD, bipolar disorder, and other controversies in American psychiatry.
You've written extensively about the psychiatric diagnosis of teens and preschoolers. How do you account for the astonishing rise in the number of diagnoses we're seeing in these age groups, especially with regard to ADHD and bipolar disorder?
To me, you can lay all of this squarely at the feet of the pharma companies, which had a slew of newish drugs come online in the 80s and 90s and wanted them taken by as many humans as possible—consequences for the patients be damned—and a crew of child psychiatrists at Harvard/MGH who see deeply-flawed, ill-for-life children where other psychiatrists might see personality disorders and issues that will burn out over time. The pharma companies and the Harvard crew worked hand-in-hand to bring America a generation of ADHD kids and bipolar children, and their profound influence can be seen in the millions of children and teens who now carry lifetime diagnoses and take gobs of psychotropic drugs each day, often to their detriment.
That may sound extreme to some people, but it's worth noting that the rest of the world has not embraced these diagnostic and treatment paradigms—except Britain, where there was an initial embrace of ADHD and stimulants, but where there's now a significant backlash. Meanwhile, in France and Italy ADHD is rarely diagnosed and it's difficult to see where French and Italian culture have suffered as a result. As for bipolar disorder in kids (meaning pre-teens and younger), it's simply not an issue in the rest of the world. The bipolar child is a purely American phenomenon, as big a metaphor of our times as credit swaps, subprime loans, and government bailouts.
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