In Defense of Healthy Mania

Enrico Gnaulati, PhD
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Let me summarize for you a story told to me by the mother of a 14-year-old teen whom she thought had emotionally gone off the deep end. It centered around an Airsoft gun battle her son, Billy, had planned for days in advance. It was all he could talk about, morning, noon and night. He hogged discussions and rattled on in minute detail about the types of guns and ammo he and his friends would use and how he was going to redesign the back yard into a warzone. His excitement was palpable. It irritated Billy when family members failed to share his excitement. Anyone in the family who hinted at his plans being overly ambitious was fair game for being yelled at.

In setting up the event Billy refused help from anyone. He was a boy on a mission. His mother saw a disaster in the making. The morning of the event Billy got up at 4am and was in the garage busily constructing and spray-painting props. Empty spray-paint cans and torn cardboard were strewn everywhere. At about 10am his mother stuck her head in the garage door and asked sheepishly if he needed help. Billy shouted at her to leave.

Yet somehow Billy was able to single-handedly pull the event off. The backyard was, indeed, converted into a warzone for the afternoon. The way Billy and his friends greeted each other when they arrived at the house embarrassed his mother. They screamed comments like, “Hey asswipe, I’m gonna wipe your ass out there today,” and “I’m going to own your ass.”

There was a definite buzz in the air. Billy was exuberant with all the attention he received for his warzone design. He could hardly contain himself. In a frenzy he chased one boy around the backyard and punched him on the arm so hard, Billy’s mother thought the boy would pass out. Instead, the boy laughed hysterically.

Billy gave his mother strict orders not to bother them in the backyard during the battle. It went on for hours. She snuck peeks out the window. At times there was utter calm and silence. The boys hunkered down in hiding spots, waiting for sniping opportunities. At other times there was all-out pandemonium. The boys ran around wildly and screamed at the top of their lungs. One event involving Billy troubled his mother, more than it intrigued her. Billy snuck up on a friend and shot him repeatedly with pellets. He then stood on his stomach with both feet, simulated masturbation and roared out, “I rule. Eat me sucker!” The friend played dead and didn’t even try to push him off.

Had Billy emotionally gone off the deep end, as speculated by his mother? Actually, in my estimation, Billy shows hallmark signs of what we might call healthy teen mania. The excitement and elation he feels are focused around a set of highly desirable teenage goals. The goals are to impress his friends, achieve social status, and demonstrate his daring and heroism. He also wants to declare his independence, show he can do things on his own without parental input. Psychologically, there’s a lot on the line. If the event is successful in every way his friendship bonds are strengthened, and he’s a hero for the day. He can say “I told you so” to those in his family who questioned his ambitiousness and capacity for independence. If the event fails in every way, his friends think he’s uncool, they thereafter avoid him, and he’s a loser. Family members then get to say to him, “I told you so,” and he feels childish and foolish.

Naturally, Billy is both excited and stressed. He can hardly contain himself. Talking up the event, even overtalking it, is Billy’s way of trying to sustain the energy necessary to execute his plan. It puts fuel in his tank. Puffing out his chest and appearing overconfident are his way of convincing himself he can actually stage this event.

Billy is taking some huge risks in planning the event to begin with. Would his friends show up? Would they, like he, think his backyard warzone was awesome? Would they be better snipers than he? In battle, would they dominate him or he dominate them? With risk comes excitement and dread. On the one hand, there’s the anticipated joy over wished-for success that has to be self-contained. On the other hand, there’s the anticipated dread of defeat. Understandably, Billy is intensely tense.

What about Billy’s obscene gesture standing atop his friend? Alas, that’s nothing other than the age-old manic gesture evolutionary psychologists say is part of a “winning subroutine.” Rather, a 21st century version of it. He’s demonstrating for all to see that he’s truly won, that he’s the victor and his friend the vanquished. Doing it in a brash, cocksure way conveys that if there’s any attempt at a comeback by the vanquished, he’ll be even worse off. If the vanquished reopens the struggle he’ll get completely pummeled. Billy’s manic gesture of conquest is successful. His friend yields, accepts defeat, and plays dead. Evolutionary psychologists say this “winning subroutine” is hard-wired in our brains. It’s a script that maintained rank, status and social order in human groups for millennia.

Mania exists on a continuum. It can be adaptive, as in Billy’s case, or maladaptive. Maladaptive forms of mania tend not to involve a frenzy of feeling and action around a central project. The person flits from one project to another, starting new ones as quickly as old ones are dumped. There may be little rhythm or reason connecting old and new projects. An example of this would be a teen who, one week, out of the blue, announces that she’s bent on becoming a top-class swimmer. School is skipped and meals passed up as she spends every waking minute in the pool. She charges hundreds of dollars buying one swimsuit after another, none of which seem to please her. Attempts to reel her in by parents are experienced as them trying to kill her “one true dream in life.” She rages at them for being so cruel as to get in the way of her dream. Within days or weeks, she’s onto a new project. This time it’s painting. She’s blasé when questioned by her parents about swimming, or flies into a fury berating them for not understanding she’s a creative person with a lot of dreams.

The grandiosity you see in maladaptive mania is different from overconfidence. It’s not just someone stretching the truth about what they’re capable of. It’s them making it up. In a manic state, the grandiose teen is the one who makes utterly incredulous self-assertions. The people hearing them may feel embarrassed for him. Yet the teen would have no sense of the shame and embarrassment surrounding his self-assertions. This might be a teen who, in all seriousness, unabashedly announces that John Lennon had a lousy voice and if the clock could be turned back the teen could do a better job singing for the Beatles. A statement made despite having little background as a singer. He might be prone to talk a blue-streak about his expected success as a singer, putting in little practice and networking to realize this goal. Grandiosity here is an impediment to success because there’s a belief that success is inevitable, rather than striven for.

It is important to distinguish, and not simply pathologize, experiences that are manic-like because they are time-honored states of mind associated with aspiration, ambition, and goal-achievement. The need to generate boundless energy, overtalk the issues to sustain single-minded focus and motivation, and have a somewhat grandiose vision of what can be accomplished, combined, can eventuate in a manic mix of tendencies necessary to bring higher-order goals to fruition.

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Enrico Gnaulati, PhD
Enrico Gnaulati, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and nationally recognized reformer of mental health practice and policy. He is the author of Back to Normal: Why Ordinary Childhood Behavior is Mistaken for ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder (Beacon Press, 2013) and Saving Talk Therapy: How Health Insurers, Big Pharma, and Slanted Science are Ruining Good Mental Health Care (Beacon Press, 2018).

35 COMMENTS

  1. I have a different explanation.

    Billy grew up in a supportive loving home with consistent rules and discipline and parents who showed him plenty of examples of following projects through from idea to completion. Even though his family are tired of hearing about his plans, they don’t belittle him or get in his way. He has the material possessions he needs to make his props in the garage and doesn’t need to buy anything but snacks for the after party.

    The swimmer is from a dysfunctional home. Her father has been molesting her since she was three and she has severe body image issues, so she can’t get comfortable in any of the swimsuits she has purchased. The other girls in swim practice immediately pick up on her vulnerability and begin bullying her. She trips one day beside the pool and the other girls laughing is the last thing she can take. She swears she’s never going to swim again as that is seen in her juvenile mind as a way of protecting herself. She stops on the way home from swim practice and buys art supplies. When her parents ask what happened, she says she can have lots of dreams. That way she doesn’t have to tell anything about why she can’t get comfortable in a swim suit or about the other girls bullying her. Her secret is safe even if she is taken to a doctor and put on drugs for her “mania”.

    Oh, and in all fairness, when describing scenarios like this in order to pathologize one persons behavior and not the other, how about a little less sexism. In your stories, not only is the female the real manic patient, whereas the male’s behavior is normal, she also has no name.

    I know what you’re trying to do here but I’d call this one a flop. A better article, one that is supportive of natural human behavior and one that refuted the standard narratives of failure = diagnosis, would have dug deeper into the whys of the behaviors.

    Lots of child and adolescent therapists could have made a difference in my life growing up if they’d looked past the behavior to try to figure out what was causing it or what kind of environment would lead to each child’s behavior patterns.

    • I had a similar reaction. The ability for the first child to act out his fantasy knowing that his family is there to back him up and help him out of things go badly has to make a huge difference in his ability to let him self go in this way safely. And there is a HUGE correlation between sexual abuse and what is generally considered “psychotic” behavior. (I won’t even get into the gender bias in the descriptions of the behavior, as I feel it’s been covered well by two other posters). While I respect the effort to contextualize “manic” behavior, the author really doesn’t provide any means to differentiate between “healthy” and “unhealthy” manic behavior. Which reinforces my own belief that behavior isn’t “healthy” or “unhealthy,” it is just how someone acts, and is meaningless without understanding their motivations and experience and the social supports and/or barriers they may be facing.

    • Tsk. Tsk. Are you saying the honest-to-gosh, legitimate, hard science of psychiatry is only a social construct? How horrifying!

      It’s perfectly legitimate. If Dr. Quackenbush thinks you have psychotic mania you are mentally ill. If he eats a high protein breakfast (Yolanda–the pharma rep hasn’t brought his warm doughnuts yet) or you don’t go to see him you are Sane. That’s all. 🙂

    • Well said. Dysfunctional homes create all kinds of trauma that functional ones never will (this is on a continuum, of course). I’m not sure if there’s direct sexism, but it’s the female that is patholigized in this article, so I see why you feel that way. I also don’t think the first example of Billy fits with “mania”, because to be manic someone needs have multiple days of decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, dangerous impulsivity, unrealistic grandiosity, and so on. If someone can pull off such an event, they aren’t manic. They are a passionate enthusiast!

      • The female is not only pathologised, she has no name, her story is given much less graphic detail, and her timing of “one week” is described as sudden whereas the boy’s timing “For several days” is just as abrupt but is described as planning.

        As a woman in the 21st century, in the age of #metoo, you’re damn straight I’m going to point out every instance of sexism I see, especially as it occurs in the arena of psychiatric diagnosis, and especially when the same behavior in a boy could very well be described differently. And unless someone has a lot of experience being a woman, preferably currently possessing a vagina, they probably shouldn’t present an argument for what is considered to be a lifelong brain disease (bipolar mania) in such a flimsy and sexist manner.

        As for mania, it is still a judgement of a collection of behaviors that society has deemed unacceptable. And historically, many traditionally masculine behaviors have been pathologized in women, and doubly so if she fails.

        Where were the parents in this situation? What amount of prep did they give the child about what to expect from her plans? What if the second child had been a boy and one day he saw the captain of the baseball team with the pretty girls fawning all over him. He went home and told his parents he wanted to join the school baseball team and become the captain – because he associates that with something he wants (the girls, the attention). They spend hundreds of dollars on equipment and a sign a six month deal with a practice coach for him. He is super excited and skips class and doesn’t eat well, and he’s too excited to sleep (all normal kid behaviors). Then after a few weeks having his butt slapped by the other boys and called faggot (jokingly) by his teammates and being belittled by the coach, he realizes what organized sports are like. He’s a sensitive boy so he says he wants to quit the team, and his parents, if they are very lucky and have done a very good job bonding and building trust over this boy’s lifetime, they will get the truth out of him. But if not, like with most kids and parents that age, he’ll say something to save face. Or he’ll quickly pick up a new hobby just as quickly as the girl did as a distraction from his failure. None of this is pathological except for the judgement.

        Another big factor in how much flitting about from one thing to the next a parent will stand is their socioeconomic status, which was not mentioned in either of the original stories. So we’re told the girl spends hundreds of dollars on different swimsuits, but I wonder if the author knows that the average woman (who swims) owns multiple suits )partly because we’ve grown up in a toxic culture that values perfect bodies over all else?) Does he know that swimsuits can cost a small fortune? Are we talking about dozens of suits from Walmart or are these mid-level designer brand and she bought maybe two or three? A more well off family is going to have a higher threshold for spending, first of all. But secondly, is she spending her own money that she earned? Then that is a chance for the parents to remind her perhaps of other things she was saving up for. If she is spending her parents money, either they sent her off shopping alone with a wad of cash or a credit card, and they didn’t give her a budget to start out with. This is a communication issue and the parents should have set firm limits. If it was her own money that she earned, then this is a teaching moment for the parents. There’s no need to pathologize the girl, she will learn that if she blows her spending money, it isn’t there for other things she wants. Unless her parents are very permissive and don’t set spending limits or guide her in what the consequences will be. Unfortunately, there is nowhere near enough information about the family dynamics or financial status to make any kind of informed decision about whether she is spending wrecklessly, or just spending upfront on equipment. Most sports and hobbies these days can cost a few hundred to just get the basics of what you need. I’ve spend a small fortune on my hobbies without regret.

        I’ll point out Shaun, that your very last sentence, reinforces exactly what I’ve said about pathologizing failure. “If someone can pull off such an event, they aren’t manic. They are a passionate enthusiast.” Do you know how many athletes have been diagnosed after a series of injuries because being accident prone is considered a sign of mania? The only difference between them and the Olympic winner is that we collectively agree that someone with extraordinary talent is worthy and someone who has a dream but isn’t as successful isn’t a true athlete.

        They are all judgements. Every last one. And I, for one, wish there had been some kind of primer beforehand to tell me what was diagnosable and what wasn’t because I hate going to a test without studying. And that’s essentially what psychiatric diagnosis is. It’s a pop quiz and a dirty trick on the part of those in power in order to describe, categorize, label, and pathologize unacceptable or inconvenient behavior.

        • Good points. I would just add that for someone to be considered clinically manic, their symptoms need to be causing significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, relationships, financial areas of functioning. Mania isn’t unacceptable per se, but rather can cause additional trauma in the person’s life, which is why it has clinical significance. It’s isn’t just some benign experience, like having a dream or temporarily feeling sad. Unresolved mania can lead to hallucinations, starvation, homelessness, attaining STDs, and other horrible maladies. I think this goes beyond just a simple inconvenience.

          • I don’t deny that very rare instances of true mania exist and that someone who is floridly psychotic should receive supportive care. But what you keep attesting to is paternalism at its finest. “You don’t know what’s best for you and instead of providing social and economic support, I’m going to medicate and shrink the heck out of you until your illness is cured.”

            Much of what you detail is not psychosis but rather bad behavior that should come with consequences but instead is met by the medicine man with reassurances that the patient’s brain is defective and in need of medicating.

            Poor financial decisions are usually the result of poor financial education. STDs (and pregnancy) are often the result of inadequate sex education. And news flash, we are hardwired to seek comfort in sex, so if shit is hitting the fan, expect babies in about nine months. We can clearly see that in instances of war and famine but when it’s on the individual level, we call it promiscuity.

            Homelessness could easily be solved with the amount of vacant housing we have and yet we continue to treat the homeless as if they’ve got some personal moral failing for not making it in a dog eat dog laissez-faire capitalist world. And many many homeless are previously successful people who have fallen on hard financial times as a result of the heavy burden of student loans and medical bills. Wages haven’t even attempted to keep up with inflation and almost no one has job security anymore, ie a full time career with benefits and retirement.

            Starvation? Why should anyone starve with the amount of food waste we have?

            We have destroyed the social contract and set up our social structure to blame and shame those who fail. We’ve transformed from moralizing failure to medicalizing it.

            And all that is in addition to the punishment we heap on those who start out at the very bottom to begin with. I mean, if only as an embryo we had had the wisdom to choose emotionally healthy parents from a large, tight knit and socioeconomically secure family to raise us…

          • I apparently wasn’t clear. I’ve seen people’s lives turned upside down because of unresolved mania–like losing jobs, relationships. housing, money, health, etc., because their symptoms were out of control. This is not about medicalizing anything. This kind of mania is dangerous for the individuals who experience it. I don’t see how what I’ve said is paternalistic? If someone literally is falling apart, I think it’s unethical for society to do nothing about it. People need support in such circumstances. They need to know that people care about them, are worried about their safety, etc. I don’t believe pills should be the first treatment, but certainly there are plenty of people I’ve met with who said that Lithium was a lifesaver for them because they were able to regain control of their minds, their actions, their self care, and so forth.

          • “Mania” is simply a description of a certain set of behaviors that tend to occur together. I don’t think anyone said a person who is struggling doesn’t need any help. However, I think using the term “mania” does tend to pull things into a medicalized viewpoint. It seems more legitimate to me to talk about exactly what is happening for the person, rather than creating a generalized category like “mania.” It’s similar to talking about “depression” as if it were a “thing” such that everyone who “has depression” is the same or very similar. It also suggests that “depression” (or “mania”) is the problem, rather than a manifestation of a set of much more complex circumstances that can’t be described by a single word or phrase. Calling it “mania,” I think, discourages looking for causes and environmental conditions and focuses the attention on the “wrongness” of the behavior.

        • I think the reason we call it mania is because it’s easier than saying: increased goal directed behavior, impulsivity, increased energy, talkativeness, grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, and irritable moods. Of course context matters when people are feeling depressive, manic, hearing voices, and so forth. Certainly, depression or mania “can be the problem”, but usually there are other circumstances which are leading to the person’s feelings or behaviors. My point is that mania by itself, the collection of symptoms mentioned above, can and is very destructive in peoples’ lives, because they do things they normally wouldn’t do during these periods of increased energy and impulsivity. Any good clinician will find out the context to the person’s life of why they are symptomatic. However, that is not always clear to find a cause.

          • So “manic” is a kind of shorthand to describe this set of behaviors. I get that. The question, I think, is whether by using this kind of technical jargon as shorthand, we induce or support the belief that the problem lies solely or primarily in the person showing the behavior. To take a less loaded example, “ADHD” can be used as shorthand for a certain set of behavior that tends to occur together. However, saying that this kid “is hyperactive” or “is ADHD” or “Shows ‘ADHD’ symptoms” immediately brings the child in as “the problem.” As I’m sure you’re aware, family systems theory talks extensively about assigning roles to different people in the family, including the role of “scapegoat” or “identified patient.” I believe the same thing happens among professionals, and of course, the likely “identified patient” is the patient, the client, the person with the least power.

            So for me, I think we’d be better off saying, “Mary is staying up all night, engaging in seemingly random sexual encounters, and speaking rapidly without allowing interaction” rather than “Mary is manic” or “Mary’s having a manic episode.” I know it costs more words to say, but it requires us to be more precise and doesn’t imply any particular “wrongness” of the behavior, but simply allows it to be described in a less judgmental way. It also, I think, encourages a further discussion of causes and environmental conditions, rather than automatically situating the cause with Mary.

  2. The problem is there is no profit in distinguishing, rather than “simply pathologize, experiences that are manic-like because they are time-honored states of mind associated with aspiration, ambition, and goal-achievement.” So today’s “mental health professionals” always “simply pathologize,” since if they don’t, they don’t get paid.

    For goodness sake, today things like “driving to Chicago” to get a haircut from the hairstylist one has been going to for over a decade, and having “lunch” with one’s brother, are now “signs of mania,” according to my medical records. In other words, normal, mundane, regular activities of one’s life – that don’t even have anything to do with “aspiration, ambition, and goal-achievement” – are claimed to be “signs of mania” by today’s “mental health professionals.”

    However, given that “driving to Chicago” is a “sign of mania” today, this means pretty much everyone who lives in the Chicagoland area, and drives into the city, is “manic.” And since having lunch with a family member is now a “sign of mania,” I guess that means that anyone who breaks bread with a family member is “manic” today too. Perhaps, the definition of “manic” is way too broad today?

    Today’s “mental health professionals” are the ones who’ve lost their minds, due to being miseducated, then given too much undeserved power, by our globalist “robber baron” run government. Today’s “mental health professionals” are the “omnipotent moral busybodies” destroying America from within, about whom C. S. Lewis forewarned us.

    https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/19967-of-all-tyrannies-a-tyranny-sincerely-exercised-for-the-good

    • I disagree. Mania is legitimate concept because it creates all kinds of havoc for those who experience it. Someone who isn’t sleeping for multiple days in a row (drug free), experiencing distressing racing thoughts, engaging in dangerous impulsivity (like having random, unprotected sex with multiple partners), experiencing unrealistic grandiosity (thinking they are god-like), is a real phenomenon. I’ve met with people who feel and behave in this way, and it never ends well. While mania isn’t something we have a test for, it sure seems like a real concept for those (adults) who have experienced these symptoms.

  3. I had to laugh at the author’s characterization of the ‘obscene gesture.’ That is such typical primate behavior that even ordinary people on the street know of it. Yet he apparently does not, or else deliberately chose not to acknowledge it.

    I noticed also that he went into great descriptive detail about the boy’s experience, as though he personally identified with it. The girl’s behavior was described in very general terms, as though it didn’t resonate with him at all. That reaction is understandable–we all respond according to our own experiences and backgrounds. But one mark of a professional is that he or she tries to look beyond personal reactions (especially gender-based ones) to human ones. That alone might have given this author motivation to think more deeply about the girl’s experience, and to see her as a person (with a name) and not just ‘the girl.’

    To me, this article is so gender-biased as to be useless. Look at the two examples he chose. The boy’s behavior was traditionally and even exaggeratedly masculine–war, in other words. The girl’s behavior, though the first instance involved a competitive sport, was not combat. It was a race against the clock, not person to person battle, even if the goal was to be better than anyone else. And swimming is one of the sports where women have been accepted, at least in the last hundred years or so. The girls’ second experience–art– is, of course, one of the areas where girls have always been encouraged. So not only was the author unable to see his gender bias in how he portrayed success vs failure, he wasn’t even able to view his characters as individuals, only as examples of acceptable male or female behavior.

    A friend who also read this offered some additional and valuable insight: There is significant difference in behavior just in evolutionary terms. Women had to multitask. They were watching the children, caring for elders, gathering food, cooking, sewing, teaching. Men went out to kill the food and/or the enemies. So from an evolutionary biological perspective, it makes sense that women flit from one task to another (or more precisely are *able* to flit from one task to another), while men need to be more singularly focused. Calling one mode a success and one a failure, especially when that is gender-linked, shows a gross misunderstanding of evolution in spite of the author’s use of it to explain the boy’s behavior.

    Sorry, this is just one more example of the kind of bias I thought was out the window years ago. It’s disheartening to see it crop up again and again.

    • “But one mark of a professional is that he or she tries to look beyond personal reactions (especially gender-based ones) to human ones.” I agree, “this article is so gender-biased as to be useless,” unless it is to used to point out this societal problem.

      “So not only was the author unable to see his gender bias in how he portrayed success vs failure, he wasn’t even able to view his characters as individuals, only as examples of acceptable male or,” I would suggest unacceptable, “female behavior.” The “mental health professionals” do like to target the women, and especially the artists.

      I agree, your friend’s point is a good one, too. Historically, and still today, “Women had to multitask. They were watching the children, caring for elders, gathering food, cooking, sewing, teaching. Men went out to kill the food and/or the enemies. So from an evolutionary biological perspective, it makes sense that women flit from one task to another,” I would describe it as women are good at multitasking, “… while men need to be more singularly focused.”

      I agree, “Calling [the masculine] mode a success and [the feminine mode] a failure, especially when that is gender [biased], shows a gross misunderstanding of evolution in spite of the author’s use of it to explain the boy’s behavior.”

      I will add this type of extreme, to the point of myogencistic, sexism is a huge problem for today’s “mental health professionals'” DSM theology. Mental health professionals today believe raising children, while volunteering 30 plus hours a week, and working on one’s art portfolio, qualifies a person as nothing more than “unemployed,” and “w/o work, content, and talent.” Until they bother to look at your portfolio, then you become “insightful” and have “work of smart female.”

      I will point out, I did take an abused child, nurtured, loved, and raised him to believe in himself. He healed and did even graduate Phi Beta Kappa (with highest honors) last year. And I was made the “artist of the year” this year, based upon my art portfolio and volunteer work, by a non-profit organization.

      Vilifying everything that is feminine, creative, non-short run profit oriented, and not materialist to the extreme (as opposed to spiritual), is what today’s “mental health professionals” have been doing forever. And this paternalistic psychiatric system is wrong, to the point that it’s number one actual function, is turning millions of child abuse victims into the “mentally ill” with their psychiatric drugs, according to their own medical literature. And this is actually morally repugnant.

    • Two compare/contrast stories do not present enough material from which to make the conclusion of gender bias, but even if you are right that the author is biased, what of it? Some counselors may be more suited for young men, and some more suited for young women and judging by the epidemic of medicating exuberant male children with clean meth to get them to thrive in highly conformative settings, we don’t have nearly enough role models for young males in the helping professions.

      My son, husband, father, and grandfather all all war veterans and I can tell you that the emotional layering of people with military conditioning is very different than that of non military people and specialization is a good thing! Bias seen from another perspective is not preferring one style or culture or gender over another, merely spending more time with one so as to render ones services more effective!

      If the author indentifies with the young man, not the young woman, and therefore weights the first with greater detail, why is that a bad thing? I see that as a positive thing as counselor being able to meet can client where he is at. We have a generation raised on paintball and violent video games. What is the solution? Medication and sedation?

      Our society is sending mixed messages to young men. These young men need role models.

      Their families need access to psychologists who identify with behavior that is considered warrior-like. Like it or not 1% of every American households has at least one post 9-11 veteran. Vietnam era households, the rate is higher.

      Returning veterans and their families need counselors who understand military culture to help individuals transition to civilian roles without the use of harmful medications to dull painful memories or they need the ability to help their adolescent clients deal with the mixed signals in the media as it concerns agressive behavior. Those who identify with the warriorrotector archetypes need to find non-violent outlets for their energy. This counselor may well have offered hope to a frightened family members who may well have sujected their son to drugging to handle his obsessive or ‘manic’ behavior.

      The epidemic of school shootings may cause many frightened family members to seek chemical restraints for their male children who are neuro divergent. There are very few talk counselors who can establish rapport with young men who influenced by the media’s sometimes frightening potrayal of ‘manly’ behavior. Some young men are very vulnerable to the powerful mixed messages in the media around issues of gender and masculinity.They deserve special attention

      • I agree that being able to identify strongly with one gender or the other should help in personal therapy. And I definitely agree that young men are being shortchanged when it comes to mental health treatment. But the issue here is not whether the author identified more strongly with the boy than with the girl. The point is that he appears to have allowed his personal preferences (if you like that phrase better than ‘bias’) to color his evaluation of both the children. Of course we all have individual inclinations. But when we’re writing about something that may affect anyone, regardless of gender, we have an obligation to put those personal inclinations aside and attempt a more objective evaluation than this author did.

  4. Mania expresses desperation; mania is excitement that expresses desperation for relief from emotional suffering. Consistently, mania is generally associated with depression: “manic-depression” (relabeled “‘bi-polar’ disorder” to promote pathologizing). Mania and excitement are both “healthy” in that both are natural, normal reactions to personal experience but mania is substantially different than regular excitement.

    • Mania is associated with depression because it is so closely associated with failure. And we are taught above else in western society to never be a failure. Steve Jobs advice to the graduates he spoke to was “Fail fast. Fail often.” We need to learn to embrace failure as teaching moments.

        • Was he really romanticizing about failure? Or suggesting that young people get their failures over with while they’re still young enough to go on and benefit from them? If it takes until you’re 50 to figure out what you’ve been doing wrong in your business attempts, you have decades less time to actually get it right than if you figure that out at 30.

        • I don’t think I agree that all societies teach avoidance of failure. And as a Buddhist, that certainly isn’t in line with the teachings I embrace. Jobs was a Buddhist as well, and my interpretation of his words were to not let the fear of failure hold you back. And to not get stuck because your initial attempts are unsuccessful.

          I didn’t know the man otherwise, but I doubt that he wasn’t at least somewhat cognizant of the incredible amount of luck and privilege he started out with. Even the privileged fall prey to diagnosis and pathology, unless you have so much money from the beginning that common sense never has to enter your worldview, like some people we all know with tiny hands…

      • Kindredspirit

        Great comments in this thread.

        There is another explanation, or social theory, for understanding the behavior that gets labeled “manic” or “mania.”

        Some believe that it can be a person’s attempt to desperately “outrun” their depression.

        A person can become very desperate to NOT have to slow down and think about and face some very difficult and painful things going on in their life (such as traumatic experiences), that they become super focused and involved in various types of behaviors or activities as a major strategy and tactic of avoidance.

        Behaviors such as talking real fast, increased physical activity, obsessive creativity, not sleeping, grandiose scheming etc. etc., all have the very REAL purpose to AVOID having to dwell upon and confront the reality of very real and/or perceived psychic pain and/or physical pain.

        All this can be a a person’s tactical and strategic (both conscious and unconscious) behavior to avoid a horrible reality. This adaptive (and sometimes very creative and successful) behavior can often help a person survive difficult circumstances, and even prevent people from taking their own life as a final solution to avoid the psychic pain.

        But this adaptive form of behavior is not without its many risks. People can eventually become totally physically and emotionally exhausted, and eventually “crash and burn” as they hit a wall by encountering much conflict and resistance from their environment (the people they encounter and the boundaries and limits they have crossed). And they can often fall into a deep depression when they eventually must slow down and think about (and even dwell upon) those painful things in life they expended so much desperate energy trying to avoid.

        More “food for thought.” This is why environmental context is SO very important to understand in these discussions, which many above commenters have pointed out with much insight. I also agree that this approach was very much lacking in the above blog.

        Richard

        • Well said, Richard. I like your conceptualization of mania, it’s purpose for the individual to cope with intense emotional pain/depression, and how it can become very problematic way of being in the world. I do also see it as an avoidance strategy, and a manner to feel better about life in general, albeit temporarily.

        • Richard, I agree with all that you have said here. One big thing I’d like to point out though is that I’ve never met someone who was manic before being medicated. The other way around seems to be the norm. I am convinced that behaviors often labeled as manic are desperate attempts to survive made by people who have very little in the way of resources or education.

          I can only speak from my own perspective, which I have seen in many others who come from backgrounds like mine. Trauma coupled with inconsistent rules and expectations, followed by a complete lack of nonpathologizing social and economic support outside of the family unit. Children can’t form stable emotional patterns when the rules change from week to week, and when failure to anticipate constantly changing norms results in physical abuse, when their basic needs aren’t being met, and when they’re being used as sexual playthings by adults. Combine all of those things along with a social structure outside the home that is constantly condemning the child, and you have a perfect recipe for an extremely dysfunctional adult that ends up in the psych system. And if they weren’t dysfunctional enough before to be labeled manic (or borderline or antisocial) then they surely will be once psychiatry is done with them.

          Of course, if we could provide food and housing and basic needs for those in need without first demanding that they become completely disabled via psychiatric drugging, that’d be super nice.

        • Also I want to point out that the “mania” seen in those who are success seeking is often very different from the “mania” experienced by those in desperate circumstances.

          When my phone goes off with an amber alert, I’m reminded of the time I fled the state with my year old daughter attempting to escape an abusive alcoholic husband. When I ran out of resources and returned, I had to give my daughter over to my husband who had portrayed me as a mental case who had disappeared with his beloved child – a man that was so dangerously dysfunctional (shooting up heroin at that point) that I had to take her back from him before the custody hearing. So at that point I’m living in a women’s shelter with a child I don’t have custody of. Of course this happened long before amber alerts were a thing but I wonder now what it would be like to see my and my child’s face on the tv and on my phone screen as her abductor when I was so desperately trying to protect her. And yet, there really aren’t many resources for extremely traumatized middle school dropout teen mothers with zero familial support married off to men decades their senior.

          Yes, context literally is everything. I can’t speak for people who haven’t come from deprivation and abuse who are simply emotionally exhausted from attempting to stand out in the world. We live in a meritocracy for sure, but success seeking has never been an issue of mine when people like me are lucky to be fed, clothed and sheltered outside of a prison or mental institution.

  5. A social worker or therapist told me they deliberately keep us in a state of “low grade depression” since that was easier than stabilizing us.

    My view? They like us that way since we’re easier to control–between pesky fits of longing for death.

    I had a job coach–“mental health” of course–laugh at me and call me delusional when I proposed working for the local paper. Yep. Can’t let those crazies get manic and uppity so they forget their place!

  6. I don’t think mania is a valid concept. I did, for a time…I thought the best thing to do, as an individual (“patient”) would be to work with Mental Health, Inc. and their concepts. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

    Talking about “appreciation for healthy mania” sounds warm and accepting, until one realizes: there’s nothing warm, accepting, or even remotely humane about Mental Health, Inc. I think the very title of this article also reinforces the position of the “expert” as the one who decides what is moral and immoral, OK and forbidden…using terms such as “healthy” and “sick,” of course.

  7. “Mania” = lack of grounding. That’s it. Many issues can arise when we are not grounded, everything from poor judgment to adrenal exhaustion to self-sabotage. Our circuitry can run wild when we are not grounded. Same as with any electrical appliance, which also needs to be grounded in order to function properly and not short circuit.

    Learning to ground to the Earth is a profoundly healing practice, and soothing on all levels mind, body, and spirit. Extremely calming to the mind, too. Gets us centered.

  8. I don’t understand why the writer of this article, who holds a PhD, thinks he is such an authority that he can call his male protagonist “healthy” and his female protagonist “maladaptive.” Whereas I don’t particularly worry which example was male and which was female (though I did take note of this!), I am concerned that a PhD’ed person seems wield such power over others, in particular, children and their families. Diagnosing is the act of proclaiming, YOU ARE something. “You, Miss, are maladaptive and you, Sir, are okay.” Thus, this determination, made by a PhD who has seized power by diagnosing, separates the okay from the not-okay, splitting off a group of not-okays so that they can be “treated,” marginalized, ghettoized, imprisoned, or killed.

    I am yet one more person who was labeled manic every time I aced a class, every time I was working hard on a college project, during National Novel Writing Month, and pretty much any time the MH professional found it convenient. They pathologized high intelligence, love of academics, desire to get somewhere in life, and any form of activism as a disease. Why? They had to uphold the label I had already been given. They had to uphold their own power. Some of them, I believe, regularly did this now and then at random just so that they stay in business.

    Last time I saw any type of doctor was right after my cataract surgery. After I explained to him how I had to adapt to being able to see again, which I must add is not at all easy, he smiled at me and said, “You have just the right attitude. Keep it up.”

    Had a doctor, even an eye doctor, who saw “bipolar” in my chart examined me at that time, under the exact same circumstances, he would have demeaned me as “overly ambitious” and cautioned me to take things one step at a time.