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NEWSWEEK Cover: Growing Up Bipolar
Date:5/18/2008

other at 2:15. When Amy Blake arrived at school, her son gave her the note that had prompted the call. "Dear Mommy & Daddy," it read, "I am really feeling sad and depressed and lousy about myself. I love you but I still feel like I want to kill myself. I am really sad but I just want help to feel happy again. The reason I feel so bad is because I can't sleep at night.

And dad yells at me to just sleep at night. But, I can't control it. It is not me that does control it. I don't know what controls it, but it is not me. I really really need some help, love Max!!!!! I Love you Mommy I Love you Daddy."

At 10, Max Blake has been on 38 different psychoactive drugs, Carmichael reports. The meds have serious side effects. They have made Max gain weight, and because he's still growing, they frequently need to be changed. The Blakes are aware that many people think their child -- any child -- should not be on so many drugs. They aren't always happy about it either. But to some degree, they have made their peace with medication.

"He's oppositional-defiant, he's dyslexic, he's ADHD, he's OCD," says Amy. "Give me an initial and he has it." Bipolar children, especially those diagnosed early, often have such a litany of disorders. The bipolar brain tries to compensate for its weak prefrontal cortex by roping in other areas to help; these areas may now become dysfunctional, too. Child psychiatrists thus face an enormous practical challenge: they often can't treat one disorder without affecting another one. "It's like a balloon where you push on one side and the other side pops out," says Janet Wozniak, the Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatrist who helped define childhood bipolar disorder. With kids like Max, she adds, parents often have to settle for "just having one part of the symptoms reduced."

Max's life has improved in some ways since his early childhood. The Manville School, part of the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, has given him a
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