The Huffington Post

Dr. Peter Breggin

The front cover of the May 26, 2008 Newsweek has a banner headline, “Growing Up Bipolar” with a split-face photograph of a ten-year-old boy. The headline should have read, “Victim of Psychiatric Assault.”

In daycare 18-month old Max kicked, bit and spat on his larger peers. Apparently before he was two years old, his overwhelmed parents took him to a famous Boston psychiatrist — having been trained in psychiatry at Harvard, I can confirm that famous Boston psychiatrists are among the most arrogantly pro-drug — and within an hour the toddler had been diagnosed as bipolar. Right away he was put on the adult “mood stabilizer,” Depakote. Depakote is an anti-seizure drug that is so sedating that it can, however briefly, subdue a child, at least until the effect wears off.

According to the parents, the doctor told them that the bipolar diagnosis was a “life sentence.” It was a life sentence — to being pharmacologically abused by psychiatrists. At the age of ten, Max is now eight years into his sentence, and getting increasingly abused by his physicians.

The doctor must have put Max on a lot of drugs because a second famous psychiatrist wanted to “streamline” the meds. Reducing anyone’s drugs is nowadays a rarity in psychiatry; Max’s first psychiatrist must have been over the top.

A mere ten years old, Max has already been on 38 different psychoactive drugs. “His parents aren’t happy about it, but they have made their peace with it.” Newsweek concludes, “Max will never truly be OK” because of his “disease.” In reality, toxic chemicals are impairing and distorting the growth of Max’s brain. Psychiatric drugs commonly drive suicidality in children and Max now leaves suicide notes. Tragically, he has become so afraid of psychiatry that after writing his last suicide note he sobbed, “Please don’t send me to the hospital.”

From now on, Max, his family and his doctors will almost certainly have to face an increasingly impossible dilemma common to children who are prescribed multiple psychiatric drugs for a period of years. When trying to withdraw these children from multiple psychiatric medications, they almost certainly go through severe withdrawal problems with extreme emotional instability and the risk of worsening violence and suicidality. In fact, we are told that an attempt to take Max off his medications resulted in his displaying hallucinations and delusions, which Newsweek attributes to his worsening condition and his need for drugs. The odds are overwhelming, instead, that he went through a severe withdrawal reaction. So it can be very difficult to withdraw children like Max from multiple psychiaric drugs, but if they are kept on drugs
indefinitely, their brain, mind and overall condition is almost certain to deteriorate.(1)

It can be relatively easy and safe to withdraw a child from one or even two psychiatric drugs, especially if the parents are willing to learn improved methods of discipline. But when multiple drugs are involved, when the drugs have been taken for a long time, and when the parents are deeply distressed or cannot agree on how to raise their child, withdrawing the child from psychiatric medication can be difficult and hazardous.

Newsweek makes clear that Max’s parents have serious conflicts over how to raise their son, but they have not pursued therapy, marriage counseling or, apparently, not even parenting classes. In every case of an out-of-control child I have seen in my psychiatric practice, either the parents were unable to reach agreement on a consistent approach to disciplining their child, or a single working mom was trying to raise a young boy without the aid of a male adult in the child’s life.

In glimpses that we are given of this family, Max’s father is somewhat like his son; he doesn’t deal well with feelings, and he thinks his wife is much too permissive, calling her a “Caspar Milquetoast.” Reading between lines, it appears that Mom is left with the lion’s share of trying to discipline the desperate child, and perhaps has her hands full with her husband who has a “temper” and is “inflexible.” While not have the opportunity to personally evaluate Max and his family, we can speculate that Max might have trouble figuring out how he is supposed to behave. Meanwhile, this family’s story sounds like a clarion call for a combination of therapy, marriage counseling and parenting classes.

Newsweek declares “At least 800,000 children in the United States have been diagnosed as bipolar, no doubt some of them wrongly,” but then immediately adopts the extremist psychiatric viewpoint, “The bipolar brain is miswired … ” After warning in passing that the drugs inflicted on these children can be useless and even dangerous, Newsweek then justifies them by declaring, “Yet untreated bipolar disorder can be disastrous; 10 percent of sufferers commit suicide.”

Drug companies wrote this script and none of it is true.

First, all of these preadolescent children are being wrongly diagnosed by conventional psychiatric standards. We have no evidence at all that temper tantrums and other unruly behavior, however extreme, is a precursor to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder as an adult.

Second, since there is no known connection between children diagnosed bipolar growing into adults diagnosed bipolar, the data about a 10% risk of suicide is misleading and irrelevant.

Third, there’s no evidence whatsoever that individuals diagnosed “bipolar” have a “miswired brain.” There’s not even any such evidence for a biological flaw in adults who suffer from full-blown manic-like episodes, let alone children whose parents and teachers cannot control them. (1)

The concept that children have bipolar disorder and should be treated with highly toxic adult psychiatric drugs is strictly a drug-company marketing ploy. If it’s true that 800,000 children have been diagnosed, it has become an enormously successful marketing strategy with tragic results for children and their families.

There’s an even more sinister aspect to all this. There has been a real increase in teenagers and young adults who display episodes of manic-like symptoms such as insomnia, excessive energy, racing thoughts, grandiose ideas about themselves, irrational and outrageous behaviors, extreme irritability, paranoia, and psychosis. However, in my three and one-half years of intensive psychiatric training in the 1960s, I saw only one case of a young person suffering from these symptoms. In the following years through approximately 1990, I saw few other cases. Yet nowadays I evaluate many teens and young adults with manic-like symptoms in my medical and forensic practice. The reason for the change? As I document in detail in Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry (2008), antidepressant drugs, so freely given to children and youth, cause a high rate of manic-like behaviors.

According to Newsweek, Max already makes excuses for himself by saying “I don’t have control.” Setting aside that the drugs may indeed be causing him to lack self-control and impulse control, the idea that he cannot control himself is one of the most adverse effects of diagnosing and medicating children. They begin to believe that they have no self-control. This is a prescription for failure in life.

These changes — diagnosing children bipolar and driving other youngsters into states of drug-induced mania — has not occurred by chance. Joseph Biederman, one of those famous Boston psychiatrists, has led the way in pinning the bipolar diagnosis on children who are having temper tantrums and outbursts of rage. Biederman, well situated at Harvard, is a long-time henchman of the drug companies, so much so that even the Wall Street Journal found it necessary to comment on his deep financial connections to his industry patrons. (2)

The promotion of drugging “bipolar children,” has been enormous
ly successful. Before the 1990s, doctors hardly ever diagnosed bipolar disorder in children. In fact, I do not recall hearing the diagnosis given to any children prior to the 1990s. A recent survey in the scientific literature showed that there was a forty-fold increase in diagnosing bipolar children between 1994 and 2003. (3) The survey found that 90.6% were receiving psychiatric medications, including 60.3% on mood stabilizers like Depakote and 47.7% on antipsychotics like Risperdal and Zyprexa, with most on combinations. To compound the tragedy, the study found that more children were being given the most toxic psychiatric drugs, the so-called antipsychotic drugs, than a similar group of adults labeled bipolar. Psychiatry is bombarding children more heavily than adults with similar diagnoses, even though the drugs are not approved for these purposes in children.

The advantages to the drug companies are obvious. If most “bipolar” children get several drugs at once, several dozen over their childhoods, they transform from being patients into being cash cows from psychiatry and the drug companies. Further administration of multiple psychiatric drugs at once complicates the clinical picture so that it is impossible to pinpoint which drugs may be most responsible for the adverse reactions the child experiences. Because so many doctors and so many drug companies will share the blame for mistreating these children, they will be unable to seek redress against individual perpetrators through the courts when they grow up.

It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for any child to outgrow his early behavior problems, and become a normal adult, while being pharmacologically overwhelmed with toxic agents for most of his childhood. The growing brain is literally being bathed in substances like antidepressants, stimulants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic drugs that cause severe, and potential permanent biochemical imbalances. All of these drugs have been shown to distort the shape of brain cells (neurons) and in some cases to destroy the cells. (1) Some of the drugs, including Risperdal, Zyprexa, Geodon and other so-called ‘anti-psychotics’ expose the child to permanent and potentially devastating drug induced neurological injury called tardive dyskinesia. They also cause potentially fatal diabetes and pancreatitis, as well as morbid obesity. (1)

The mass drugging of America’s children has become such an outrageous practice with such vast public health and societal implications, it is difficult to know how to conclude my observations. I can understand how parents who feel confused and overwhelmed can be pushed by psychiatrists into trying to control their children’s behavior with drugs. But shame, shame, and more shame should be heaped upon a profession that has forsaken its sacred trust to protect and to care for children, and instead has become a major child abuser of epidemic proportions.

(1) Breggin, P. (2008). Brain-disabling treatments in psychiatry: Drugs, electroshock and the psychopharmaceutical complex. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

(2) Abboud, L. (2005, May 25). Treating children for bipolar disorder? Doctors try powerful drugs on kids as young as 4. Wall Street Journal, p. D1.

(3) Moreno, C., et al. (2007). National trends in the outpatient diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder in youth. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 1032-1039.