adolescents


I read Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America as a counterpoint assignment in one of the diagnosis classes in my Couples & Family Therapy program. It was an excellent book about the history and science of several psychological problems, both as phenomena and diagnoses, including depression, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and schizophrenia. As a university student, I had the opportunity to check out for free any of the many academic citations in the book that piqued my interest, and each one that I looked at seemed indeed to provide the evidence he claimed. I haven’t read anything like all of them (there are nearly 700), but enough to satisfy myself that Whitaker has done some good journalism here, and that his hypotheses are credible.

Two of these hypotheses is about childhood bipolar disorder, the first of which he calls the “ADHD to bipolar pathway.” The side effects of stimulants such as those used to treat ADHD are substantially similar to bipolar symptoms, as shown in the table below, from p. 238. (The formatting is slightly different than Whitaker’s, thanks to an Open Office/Wordpress interaction.) Multiplying the estimated rate of stimulant-induced bipolar-like symptoms by the 3,500,000 children and teens taking those medications, Whitaker estimates we should see approximately 400,000 “bipolar youth” as a result.

The ADHD to Bipolar Pathway

Stimulant-Induced Symptoms

Bipolar Symptoms

Arousal

Dysphoric

Arousal

Dysphoric

Increased lethargy

Intensified focus

Hyperalertness

Euphoria

Agitation, anxiety

Insomnia

Irritability

Hostility

Hypomania

Mania

Psychosis

Somnolence

Fatigue, lethargy

Social withdrawal, isolation

Decreased spontaneity

Reduced curiosity

Constriction of affect

Depression

Emotional lability

Increased energy

Intensified goal-directed activity

Decreased need for sleep

Severe mood change

Irritability

Agitation

Destructive outbursts

Increased talking

Hypomania

Mania

Sad mood

Loss of energy

Loss of interest in activities

Social isolation

Poor communication

Feelings of worthlessness

Unexplained crying

The second part of Whitaker’s thinking on childhood bipolar disorder is an SSRI to bipolar pathway. Estimates of the rate of the well-know SSRI side effect of mania, multiplied by 2,000,000 children and adolescents on the medications, give us the possibility of producing at least 500,000 SSRI-induced bipolar disorders in young people.

If true, these hypotheses could go a long way to explain the skyrocketing rates of childhood bipolar disorder diagnoses, as most diagnoses of childhood bipolar disorder are made on children who are already taking stimulants and/or SSRIs. The primary alternative, and more mainstream, hypothesis is not that stimulants and SSRIs are iatrogenic, but that since those medications solve the problems of ADHD and depression, the symptoms of bipolar disorder that emerge show that the diagnostician had initially guessed wrong, and that bipolar disorder was the previously-existing and underlying cause of the ADHD and/or depression. This, of course, may be true, but it seems very important to discover for certain whether it is!

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Staff of NBTSC

NBTSC 2010 Oregon Staff

I’m in the woods of Vermont, preparing for the start of the east coast sessions of Not Back To School Camp. Today is staff orientation and the campers arrive tomorrow–over a hundred teenaged unschoolers. If I’m counting right, this will be my thirtieth session. I’ve only missed two since 1999.

In our first go-round of our first meeting, Grace asked us to say why we come to camp. This was my answer:

First, because this is where my people gather. The staff here are like family to me and for the rest of the year, they are dispersed. I can visit them one at a time or in clumps, by traveling. Camp is also where I am most likely to meet my future people. I’ve met almost all of my post-high school close friends at NBTSC.

Second, NBTSC provides the perfect supportive atmosphere to practice how I want to be and serve in the outside world: I want to be a space for love and inspiration to show up, strong and clear, for every person who crosses my path.

Third, since NBTSC happens once a year, every year, with the same basic mission, structure, and community, it provides a consistent backdrop to check myself against. My outside life continues to change, but here I am every year, back at camp. How am I showing up differently? How have I grown? Here that is quite clear.

Last, it’s super, super fun. The young people are beautiful, inspiring, and open. There’s lots of music, dancing and hilarity. I love it.

2010 Oregon session one group photo

NBTSC Oregon Campers (session 1) 2010

According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), there is a mental disorder that is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence called Oppositional Defiant Disorder. It afflicts somewhere between 2-16% of people, more boys than girls before puberty, but equal numbers of boys and girls after puberty. Family therapists are not into giving medical-model diagnoses in general, but in many cases, a DSM diagnosis is the only way for a family to get their insurance companies to pay for them to get help. In one of my internship sites, for example, I will need to provide a DSM diagnosis after the first session with a family in order to get the clinic paid for our work. As I understand it, this is a common diagnosis for kids who are giving their parents and teachers a hard time.

Note that the word “often” is used to mean something like “more than usual,” so whichever kids who are most like this will qualify for this Disorder, as long as someone important believes that their behavior is significantly impairing their social or academic functioning. Note also that these symptoms could be occurring in just one setting (say, just at school) and the kid will still qualify for ODD, unlike the symptoms for ADHD, which have to occur in at least two settings to qualify for the diagnosis.

Outside of family therapy, ODD is very commonly treated with Ritalin for “comorbid” ADHD. Kids diagnosed with ODD are also fairly commonly given antidepressant and/or antipsychotic medication, on the guess that they have an underlying Mood Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, though there is little to no research on these medications for children, especially in combination.

The following is word-for-word from the DSM-IV-TR, page 102:

Diagnosis criteria for 313.81 Oppositional Defiant Disorder

A. A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present:

(1) often loses temper

(2) often argues with adults

(3) often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules

(4) often deliberately annoys people

(5) often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior

(6) is often touchy or easily annoyed by others

(7) is often angry or resentful

(8) is often spiteful or vindictive

Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behavior occurs more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level.

B. The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

C. The behaviors do not occur exclusively during the course of a Psychotic or Mood Disorder.

D. Criteria are not met for Conduct Disorder, and, if the individual is age 18 or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial Personality Disorder.

This is another DSM-IV-TR Mental Disorder diagnosis that is commonly given to children. The DSM says that its prevelence has been increasing for a few decades now and that up to 10% of kids, mostly boys in “urban settings”, have it. It’s a pretty serious label to give a kid. It’s linked with suicide, homicide, various criminal acts, and is thought of as a precursor to Antisocial Personality Disorder. Here are the criteria, quoted word-for-word from the DSM-IV-TR (pp. 98-99):

Diagnostic criteria for Conduct Disorder

A. A repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basioc rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated, as manifested by the presence of three (or more) of the following criteria in the past 12 months, with at least one criterion present in the past 6 months.

Aggression to people and animals

(1) often bullies, threatens, or intimidates others

(2) often initiates physical fights

(3) has used a weapon that can cause serious physical harm to others (e.g., a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife, gun)

(4) has been physically cruel to people

(5) has been physically cruel to animals

(6) has stolen while confronting a victim (e.g., mugging, purse snatching, extortion, armed robbery)

(7) has forced someone into sexual activity

Destruction of property

(8) has deliberately engaged in fire setting with the intention of causing serious damage

(9) has deliberately destroyed others’ property (other than by fire setting)

Deceitfulness or theft

(10) has broken into someone else’s house, building, or car

(11) often lies to obtain goods or favors or to avoid obligations (i.e., “cons” others)

(12) has stolen items of nontrivial value without confronting a victim (e.g., shoplifting, but without breaking and entering; forgery)

Serious violations of rules

(13) often stays out at night despite parental prohibitions, beginning before age 13 years

(14) has run away from home overnight at least twice while living in parental or parental surrogate (or once without returning for a lengthy period)

(15) is often truant from school, beginning before age 13 years

B. The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

C. If the individual is age 18 years or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Code based on age at onset:

312.81 Conduct Disorder, Childhood-Onset Type: onset of at least one criterion characteristic of Conduct Disorder prior to age 10 years

312.82 Conduct Disorder, Adolescent-Onset Type: absence of any criteria characteristic of Conduct Disorder prior to age 10 years

312.89 Donduct Disorder, Unspecified Onset: age at onset is not known

Specify severity:

Mild: few if any conduct problems in excess of those required to make the diagnosis and conduct problems cause only minor harm to others

Moderate: number of conduct problems and effect on other intermediate between “mild” and “severe”

Severe: many conduct problems in excess of those required in excess of those required to make the diagnosis or conduct problems cause considerable harm to others