Pediatric Bipolar and the Media of Madness

Bossewitch, Jonah S.

This past decade has witnessed an explosive rise in the controversial diagnosis of pediatric bipolar and the prescription of anti-psychotics to children. Has the behavior of American children grown more irritable and defiant, or has adult judgment of their behavior changed? How can we effectively study and explain these dramatic transformations in judgment and behavior? This article proposes a hypothesis that explains many of these developments and lays out a research program for a continuing investigation of these urgent questions. The paper highlights the controversy around the diagnosis of pediatric bipolar and the emerging relations between the media of surveillance and structures of social control. It explores connections between the interactive media landscapes inhabited by youth, the behavioral expectations imposed on them in schools, and the role of psychoactive drugs in mediating this tension. Finally, the article details the intersections between media, communications, and madness studies and proposes a research agenda for studying this controversy using approaches drawn from these disciplines.


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January 11, 2011


Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, vol. 12, no. 3 (2010), pp. 254-268.