The area of child mental illness is controversial, largely because diagnosis is so difficult.
Diagnosing adults is tricky at the best of times, but mental disorder seems to appear differently in children and is often classified using specific diagnoses.
Some disorders, such as conduct disorder or childhood autism, can only be diagnosed in children, while others, such as psychotic disorders, could technically be diagnosed but are incredibly rare in pre-adolescents.
Some diagnoses are subject to significant cultural differences. For example, some American psychiatrists are diagnosing children with bipolar disorder as young as 6-years-old, while most British psychiatrists tend to be quite unhappy with this, and in practice, rarely diagnose anyone under 18 with the condition.
At the moment, awareness of ‘Juvenile Bipolar Disoder’, as it has been christened, is being heavily promoted in America.
For example, the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation website even lets you ‘screen’ your own child with an online questionnaire to see if they have the condition.
Cynics may note that the organisation is sponsored by, among others, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and make accusations of disease mongering, while supporters would argue that it is increasing awareness of an under-recognised disorder and hope that it will lead to better treatment for children in distress
One of the concerns of these diagnoses, is that they typically lead to substantial drug treatment, the long-term effects of which are not well understood or researched.
The first NYT article explores the experience of one family who had a daughter who developed behavioural problems and started experiencing psychotic symptoms at the age of 7, a very uncommon occurrence.
The second article looks at the process of diagnosis itself, and what difficulties psychiatrists face when trying to separate bizarre but normal childhood fantasy from troubling thoughts and feelings.
This is an especially difficult task in children who do not necessarily have the language or mental abilities to fully communicate their own experiences.
Both articles have video and a photo essay to accompany them. Presumably, more articles in the series will be forthcoming.