Saturday, February 19, 2005

"Mom, am I bipolar?"

Blondzila's son shocks her with a question. Based on her post (and some e-mails we exchanged), I think she handled it thoughtfully:
I asked him why, where was this question coming from? He explained that a boy he goes to school with, Chris, is bipolar. I asked if Chris takes medicine, and he didn't know. So I tried to explain the details of bipolar symptoms. And believe it or not, I struggled to put them into terms that would both satisfy him and protect myself. I was loathe to have him see me as damaged, just in case he found out that I too am bipolar.
So I hit on a solution. We googled "bipolar disorder questionnaire" and came up with a good one I've seen (and used) before at
She's referring to the website of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. They provide a questionnaire that we sometimes use when we're exploring the diagnosis with adults. Making the diagnosis in children is complex and controversial; see here, here, and here.
We went through the questions carefully, and the questionnaire said that he did not appear to have the disorder. I then gave him a verbal example of manic pressured speech and he said "That's Chris."
We also went to another website: A statistic appeared there that a study had shown that 59% of adult bipolar patients believed that their symptoms had first appeared during adolescent or childhood. I did NOT read to him the statistics about the likelihood of the inheritable nature of the disorder. I am not going to allow him to label himself with something that may very well never be.
I'm writing this to you for two reasons:
1) My son had heard of a diagnosis and was wondering immediately if the same applied to him. Teens conform. But there's also a "cool" thing about being different. I'm wondering if there's an element to my son that was kind of hoping he was bipolar, so he could be set apart, be unique in a VERY unique way. When I explained to him about the negative thoughts, thoughts of self-harm beyond your control, I think he cooled to the idea. He asked me if I'd ever thought that way and I told him that I did as a teen (I wasn't going to tell him how frequent that happens to me now - he'd worry himself sick).
Teens are caught in a tension of wanting to strike out on their own and still needing the security of conformity. That can result in some very strange behaviour when seen through a parent's eyes. How many families are using the diagnosis as a straw to grasp, not to be cool, but to explain why their teen is no longer that nice young man they could take to church a few years ago? Doctor doctor, there's something wrong with my son! He never listens anymore and is depressed when I force him to stay in his room as punishment.
2) My son can also be pretty irritable. So I also believe he was looking at his mood changes in that direction and wondering if he did have BP...I reminded him that no matter why he was irritable sometimes, it is important for him to monitor that behaviour and not to place it on the shoulders of others. "It's not fair for you to treat other people badly because you have difficulty not getting irritated..."
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