Madness Radio: Sharna Olfman on Medicating Children Diagnosed Bipolar


Professor Sharna Olfman has researched and written extensively about children in society, including education and sexuality, and her perspective on so-called bipolar disorder is insightful and deserves wide recognition. Sharna discusses the social and economic pressures that are driving parents to medicate their children. In sounding the alarm about medication risks and the damage done by stigmatizing and misleading labels, we should also remember to bring in the perspectives of parents, who are under enormous pressures in an often high pressure and unforgiving economy. No one wants to medicate their children, and sometimes it is class and educational privilege that gives some parents access to medication alternatives that others don’t have. Child behavioral problems are very real (though usually linked to patterns in the family itself, not just with the child themselves) and parents usually don’t agree to a prescription until they reach a point of desperation. As we move to greater discussion of medication risks, let’s also bring in the needs of parents and the importance of promoting viable alternatives, including holistic health, parenting skills, therapy, supportive education, access to nature and exercise, trauma awareness, and demands for more childcare and healthcare support for families.

You can listen to the whole interview on the latest episode of Madness Radio:

Bipolar Children Sharna Olfman

Why are so many children being diagnosed bipolar? Do medications treat disease – or just keep children under control? What else can parents do when faced with difficult behavioral problems? Sharna Olfman, Psychology Professor at Point Park University and editor of the book Bipolar Children, discusses the growing social and economic pressures to label children bipolar.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. You are as wrong as can be. If we demand more childcare and child healthcare services for families, we will in fact get even more psychotropic drugs being prescribed to children, because you’re wrong about no parent wanting to drug their children and doing it out of desperation. They want to drug their children, they do it because it’s convenient. As long as it’s convenient, they will demand it, and as long as it’s legal, suppliers will offer it.

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  2. I don’t think he’s wrong. How many parents want drugged-up children and all the side effects that the drugs induce? Once side effects kick in, often other drugs are added to the mix to try to counteract them. This ends up a mess for everyone, especially the child.

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