Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Smart kids go crazy

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.


  1. Mental illness is a social construct guided by the metric of utilitarianism. Adults lie and coerce kids into unfulfilling lifepaths. This is a poetic obsession of mine and I examine society's 'noble lies' fairly frequently in my 'Today's News Poems.' Criticizing mental-health methodologies puts one at risk of being labeled 'mentally ill' with all the accompanying risk that involves: a testament to how much mental-health is a construct and tool of conformity.

    You really said it: the statistical map is meaningless and doesn't explain the particular data-points: especially outliers. I think it comes down to scientific methodology being prepared to throw out a whole class of data: 'subjective experience' because it's not replicable in a lab. Too many idiots in science don't bother studying basic logic. I guess you've gotta be Karl Popper to get any of the degenerates to listen to you.

    1. Hell yeah!

      Good rant that makes sense and seems to support this view point:

      Lengthy film that supports this on major levels:

  2. My child is extremely bright, genius, and has several different diagnoses depending on what doctor he has seen. I threw my hands up trying to figure out who was right and just laughed at the whole process. I guess the exams helped me start to understand what I was dealing with better. Now I know he needs to be challenged and supported for anxiety and social learning, but I will never put him on psychotropic drugs. These are harmful and are really only a bandaid approach. People need to look under the hood a little more to see if nutritional biomedical support can help. Plus we have had to slow down. Americans are too fast paced and frenzied all the time. I watched neighbors get upset when their cars got stuck in the snow this weekend in Maryland. Its like everyone is ready to explode at this pace. What are we doing to kids in our schools that makes them so crazy and anxious. A good diet,homeschooling and tutoring work fine. Social groups for activities and sports help him make friends. And love. The magic for all brains is love and compassion and listening, not drugs.