Rethinking bipolar disorder

I’m reposting the below post for the second time and then following it with a collection of links to other posts from the Beyond Meds archives that look at that which gets labeled “bipolar disorder” from different perspectives so that we might be challenged to think outside the psychiatric box.

The “bipolar” diagnosis did me nothing but harm and it tragically results in similar iatrogenic injury for far too many others. There are other ways to view whatever phenomena is getting labeled bipolar and likewise much safer ways of healing. Indeed within the psychiatric model people are told to expect to manage being ill until they die. Many of us have discovered this is simply not necessarily true. It’s possible to get well and it seems the psych drugs can seriously impede that process for a good number of folks if used for long-term maintenance.  Also, it’s clear that the collection of phenomena that is labeled bipolar varies from individual to individual and they have many different etiologies. Labeling them as if they are all the same monolithic thing only serves to muddy the waters and often serves to trap the individual in a toxic prison of confusion. (See: How are psychiatric diagnosis made)

This post with the collection of links that follows will be part of the navigation menu at the top of this website for those interested in getting alternative perspectives on those phenomena that are often labeled bipolar disorder. 

If you want to simply see the collection of titles on the subject of that which gets labeled Bipolar Disorder, scroll down past this opening post. The most recent version of this post will always be found in the drop down menus at the top of the page.

Bipolar (being grossly over-treated) everywhere

Jill Littrell at Mad in America writes about the epidemic of bipolar diagnosis and questions the legitimacy of expanding the diagnosis back in 1994. It’s worth a read, especially if you’re new to these ideas.

A short excerpt here of her damning conclusion…lots of folks on medications means lots of harm:

Bipolar everywhere

Of course, the consequences of being wrong in diagnosing a person as Bipolar are steep. The drugs for Bipolar have serious side effects. Lithium has been estimated to destroy kidneys in about 12% over a 20 year period (Presne et al., 2003). Atypical antipsychotics will shrink the cortex taken over a two year period (Ho et al., 2011). Anticonvulsants can cause damage to the liver and pancreas and induce depression (PDR). Then there is the issue of potential withdrawal symptoms when you discontinue the medications. These dangers are not trivial. The practice of diagnosing Bipolar is now epidemic. The label will probably shorten the lives of many people who would otherwise be resilient in the face of adversity. (read more)

I unfortunately know many people who have succumbed to such iatrogenesis. I regularly lost clients this way when I practiced social work. It’s devastating and heartbreaking. Some of these people are dead, grossly prematurely. And not by suicide. Nope it was, kidney failure, cardiac arrest caused by the complications of massive weight gain and diabetes from anti-psychotics…etc…People who should be alive today had they not taken toxic medications for so long.

I would also ask what is Bipolar 1? (In the article I link to above Jill Littrell looks at the history of Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2, which she argues are not even etiologically related.)  Bipolar 1 is the “classic” manic depression. Some think that is the only real bipolar. But, really, I ask, should anything with the Bipolar 1 label be treated with long-term psychotropics in any case? There is a lot of evidence that suggests it makes no sense at all.

Robert Whitaker found studies that indicated that before psychopharmaceutical treatments even the more extreme behavior that gets labeled as bipolar seemed to run its course in most people suggesting maintenance long-term treatment with neurotoxic drugs is over-kill pretty much always.

Polypharmacy/Bipolar illness

A. Bipolar Illness Before the Psychopharmacology Era

Prior to 1955, bipolar illness was a rare disorder. There were only 12,750 people hospitalized with that disorder in 1955. In addition, there were only about 2,400 “first admissions” for bipolar illness yearly in the country’s mental hospitals.

Outcomes were relatively good too. Seventy-five percent or so of the first-admission patients would recover within 12 months. Over the long-term, only about 15% of all first-admission patients would become chronically ill, and 70% to 85% of the patients would have good outcomes, which meant they worked and had active social lives.

B. Gateways to a Bipolar Diagnosis

Today, bipolar illness is said to affect one in every 40 adults in the United States. A rare disorder has become a very common diagnosis. There are several reasons for this. First, many drugs–both illicit and legal–can stir manic episodes, and thus usage of those drugs leads many to a bipolar diagnosis. Second, the diagnostic boundaries of bipolar illness have been greatly broadened.


In a review of 87,290 patients diagnosed with depression or anxiety between 1997 and 2001, those treated with antidepressants converted to bipolar illness at the rate of 7.7% per year, which was three times the rate for those not exposed to the drugs. click here for links to numerous studies

God knows I don’t limit my understanding of my life by labeling myself with a mood-disorder anymore. I undiagnosed myself a long time ago now and a psychiatrist did so as well more recently. — I took potent neurotoxins for 2 decades that rendered me physically disabled for the last many years…for what? (I am now recovering more quickly, we do get better if the body is given half a chance to heal)

We need to make some changes because we’re seeing a “new holocaust” happen as Grainne Humphry spoke about in this interview when she speaks of the destruction of her partner (at the time) and the father of her son. It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s not, I’m afraid. I know far too many people who have been gravely harmed. Thousands now. It’s just largely invisible to those outside this world because people are in denial and often refuse to see what is in front of their faces. We are all more or less conditioned in this manner.

The bipolar collection:

See also: Healing trauma links

Do people recover and thrive after being told they cannot by psychiatry? Yes we do. All the time.

*it is potentially dangerous to come off medications without careful planning. Please be sure to be well educated before undertaking any sort of discontinuation of medications. If your MD agrees to help you do so, do not assume they know how to do it well even if they claim to have experience. They are generally not trained in discontinuation and may not know how to recognize withdrawal issues. A lot of withdrawal issues are misdiagnosed to be psychiatric problems. This is why it’s good to educate oneself and find a doctor who is willing to learn with you as your partner in care.  Really all doctors should always be willing to do this as we are all individuals and need to be treated as such. See: Psychiatric drug withdrawal and protracted withdrawal syndrome round-up

For a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page.  

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About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters