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Is Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder Simply Normal Childhood?

When researchers start referring to their own work in the field as a “bible” when it comes to the topic of their research, it makes you wonder if they’re perhaps drinking too much of their Kool-Aid. After all, researchers are supposed to be objective scientists, not simply advocates for their own beliefs and personalities as “leaders” in a field.

So it was refreshing to see psychologist John Rosemond call out Dr. Demetri Papolos and his wife Janice for becoming the leaders of their own little belief system where children who exhibit everyday, normal childhood behaviors should be labeled as “early onset bipolar disorder,” a non-existent diagnosis that the Papoloses are trying to push as a legitimate concern.

Rosemond hits a homerun with this simple observation:

Especially intriguing is the Papolos’ proposed list of “very common” symptoms for EODB including separation anxiety, tantrums (especially in response to the word “no”), defiance, hyperactivity, inattentiveness, unpredictable mood swings, and distractibility. Those “symptoms” will be familiar to anyone who has lived with a toddler.

If we start medicalizing and demonizing normal behavior, then we might as call it a day and label everyone with something. Children responding poorly to being told “No” as a toddler? That’s normal and can be diagnostic of absolutely nothing.

Should most toddlers be on drugs? I have to admit to having no small amount of difficulty with the reasoning involved here. One thing is certain: The Papoloses are a boon to both the mental health and pharmaceutical industries. I’m not so certain they are a boon to children.

In their book and in the May 2007 issue of their newsletter, available through their website, the Papoloses recommend against using the word “no” with a bipolar child “because it will trigger a meltdown.” When they were toddlers, my children often suffered wild seizures at the sound of “no.”

Interestingly, however, these seizures were eventually cured with regular doses of that very word in combination with consequences the Papoloses would probably consider draconian.

It’s amazing what people can find if they believe it hard and long enough.

It’s also refreshing to read experienced psychologists such as Rosemond calling the Papoloses out for the absurdity of some of what they are proposing. While indeed there may be such a thing as “early onset bipolar disorder,” the Papoloses aren’t helping forward their cause any by pushing it in their own self-acclaimed “bible.”

Read the aritcle: Is Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder Also Known As ‘The Terrible 2s’?

Is Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder Simply Normal Childhood?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Is Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder Simply Normal Childhood?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 Dec 2007)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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