Cathy Weller

from Minneapolis, MN

Having a son with bipolar, I can relate to the families in this article. Beginning about the age of seven, we watched our son change from a happy, funny and outgoing little boy into an angry, very depressed, suicidal and out of control mess. It took over ten years of painful and often frightening trial and error with psychiatrists, school counselors, therapists and so many medications that we can't even remember them all, to come up with a bipolar diagnosis. He grew up isolated and lonely, was harassed, abused and tormented by other kids, and then was told he had to leave his home school "for his own safety." He then was passed through five different EBD/alternative schools in less than four years. When he was admitted to a youth psychiatric hospital for a month-long evaluation, we were told we were "too involved" and were enabling his bad behavior. We dealt with the juvenile justice system, where we were told to "just let him go. Once he gets in enough trouble the courts will deal with him!"  At age 21 now, he still struggles with the bipolar diagnosis, partly because his current psychiatrist doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that diagnosis. Instead, he calls it "mood disorder non-specified!"

In spite of all of this, our son is enrolled in a technical college to become an electrician, getting As in his classes. He's a loving, caring, funny and very smart kid, and is trying to piece together some semblance of a life for himself beyond doctors and medicines.

Looking back, what could have been done at the time to improve the situation? Treatment, medication, a different approach, or understanding from others around you?

The biggest problem we found was lack of adequate providers for child psychiatry. We would often wait months to get an appointment, and be told to go to the ER if we had problems in the meantime. Then we'd get to a psychiatrist in the hopes of finding help, only to be given prescriptions but no answers, and no real therapy. Then we'd have to search for a therapist, wait months for that appointment, and it all became a vicious cycle.

The other thing would be for doctors to actually listen to parents, when we describe the symptoms and behaviors, to help them find a diagnosis. Once, after a suicide attempt, I asked a doctor if our son could be bipolar. He was so manic at the time; he was literally trying to climb the walls of the exam room. The doctor totally dismissed the idea and told me he was just acting out. It took another three years to get the bipolar diagnosis. What a sad waste of time that could have been spent actually dealing with the correct diagnosis!

Any public education, information, research and support for this cruel and debilitating disease will help ease the trauma and suffering of families who live with it. Thanks so much for your program.

Back to listener stories

©2018 American Public Media