Doctor knows best, poisoned chalices, and beings on drugs: Young people’s accounts of getting the diagnosis of bipolar disorder

This account by JP Marshall of part of a research study has been published by Mad in the UK. It begins:

“Not long ago, as part of a research study, I asked six young people how it was for them to receive the diagnostic label of bipolar disorder (1). These young people were ‘Mark’ (2), a Black-British male, aged 12 when diagnosed; ‘Jessica’, a White-British female, 15 when diagnosed; ‘Jane’, a White-British female, 16 when diagnosed; ‘Rachel’, a White-British female, 17 when diagnosed; ‘Sofia’, a White-European female, 20 when diagnosed; and ‘Ahmed’, an Arab-British male, aged 20 when diagnosed. Selecting from categories presented, three, Jessica, Jane, and Sofia, identified as ‘middle-class’, whereas Mark and Rachel were ‘working-class’. Ahmed, in a homelessness hostel in one of the UK’s most impoverished areas, did not identify with any ‘socioeconomic status’ or ‘class’. My analysis of these young people’s stories can be summarised in three main themes.

Main theme 1: Authority is knowledge (Doctor knows best)

This first theme highlights how these young people’s understanding of their difficulties following diagnosis involved a process of alienation. Their perceptions of their problems post-diagnosis often seemed disconnected from their own sense-making, and instead appeared to be exterior ‘knowledge’ dictated to them about their distress from a biomedical perspective. Once these young people received their ‘truth’ in diagnosis, rigid narratives formed, and alternative explanations they had for their distress became overshadowed and ignored. This ‘truth’ (mis)led them to see their distress as, at root, a concrete ‘thing’; a genetic flaw, or a chemical imbalance, for example – identifiable, that is, at a pathophysiological level. It also led them to medicalise their emotions, a process seemingly obstructing them from engaging with, and thereby working through, emotional responses to adversities in their lives, which they all seemed to know were related to their difficulties …”

You can read more from here.

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