OCD and mood disorders were on the docket this week. We had a contest for the most unusual OCD behavior, and I heard some good ones, though I don’t feel at liberty to disclose those here. If you’d like to list yours, feel free to comment. I tend to count and organize. For example, if I’m at a choral concert, I will count the number of singers on stage, from left to right, then section by section to see if I arrive at the same number, then maybe right to left. It’s not a frenzied counting, and I’m still able to enjoy the music, but I’ll admit this is unusual and irrational and cuckoo. I’m also a tile counter, a cabinet door closer, a divider of letters to see if words are symmetrical (TOYOTA is a perfect word, three letters on each side, and—this is really cuckoo—the three letters require nine strokes each).
Depression is a little trickier to talk about because of the stigma that still pervades. Do I invite sufferers to share their stories? Or do I remain clinical and more impersonal? There’s some middle ground, of course, and that’s the area I treaded. Coincidentally, our award-winning school newspaper featured on Friday a first-person account by a student who had been hospitalized for depression. This was a brave and generous gesture that I trust will go a long way in lifting the stigma of depression in our little world at school.
We had a pretty good discussion, I thought, students offering mature and balanced insights into the reasons for the stigma and possible causes and treatment. But I’m always amazed by how much we have all bought into the medical model for depression, specifically, that some chemical imbalance exists and that magic pills exist to alleviate the depression. All one needs to do is find the right pill and the precise dosage. The evidence for a chemical imbalance as the cause of depression is mixed at best. But I don’t think anyone disputes that the drugs themselves create imbalances in the transmission of neurotransmitters. The commercials don’t mention that part. They also don’t mention this: if the drugs are working so well, why has the rate of depression soared in the last 40 years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)?
I’m not advocating that we trash all our prescriptions, but I do fall in the camp that suggests that depression is more symptom than disorder. I’m not minimizing the suffering; the symptoms are severe and brutal. But before we start popping pills, let’s find out about vitamin D levels and thyroid functioning, and let’s examine our diets and sleep schedules.
We also discussed bipolar disorder, another devastating affliction, one with which students were less familiar. I showed them a clip from a Frontline episode that highlights this interesting fact: since 2005, there has been a 4000% increase in the number of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And the psychiatrist who led this movement by proposing a comorbidity between ADHD and bipolar received $1.6 million by Johnson & Johnson for his consultation fees. Without his published report, no increase occurs, in either diagnosis or sales. Which calls to mind what every person who has suffered a serious illness knows: you have to take charge of your own health and not blindly entrust it to this company or that expert.
Over a million children are now diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which strikes me as criminal.