A study just published in the British Journal of Psychiatry shows that smart kids are four times more likely to develop bipolar disorder than average kids. Assuming it’s true, what does it mean?
Bipolar disorder being a crippling life-long mental illness, should parents hope their kids just get average grades? Should a forensic psychiatrist, knowing that a defendant once scored above 1400 on the SAT, be more certain that he or she was not guilty of murder by reason of insanity? Should schools expect that A students will be more likely to need mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics? Why not?
For decades, NAMI types have argued that mental illnesses are chemical imbalances in the brain which cause disabilities needing treatment, even prophylactic treatment. Now it looks reasonable to theorize about a hypothetical chemical imbalance which causes bipolar disorder and also makes people smart. Should we screen all straight-A students and be prepared to treat them medically to keep them from being so smart and going crazy...?
On the opposite side of this thing, GlaxoSmithKlein, maker of the antidepressant Paxil, just announced they won't even look for new drugs in that class anymore, because it's way too hard to know if they work. So ... if psychotropic meds may not even work, and if they have side effects like suicide and diabetes ... um ... should we give them to kids ... at all?
This is going to get extremely complicated! As Gregg Easterbrook writes in Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed, "Does it seem as though no matter how much you know and learn, you'll never really be on top of things? Guess what--you won't."
Well, here's a trick. Let’s give up this goofy, destructive and distracting search for magic-button cures for mental-illness-as-brain-disease. Let’s work out how to deal with different kinds of people, and stop trying to make everyone be average and mechanical and the same. The world will never become a better place because we can predict and control standardized humans. It will only improve if we create more truly new things, and communicate across wider and wider differences.
Mental illness is NOT any chemical imbalance in an individual. It’s the need to medically control individuals for the sake of security in society. It’s a bad metaphor, actually, and it really discourages us from being smart.