Dr. Mike, My husband has Bipolar Disorder, and we recently saw Silver Linings Playbook. I realize the movie is a big hit and that a lot of people really enjoy the movie’s feel-good message, but we are both very offended by the story. Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness, and it has compromised my husband’s life, and our family’s life, in many ways over the years. To portray Bipolar as something that you can get over in a short period of time is not only ludicrous but also insulting to those of us who live with Bipolar, and its painful realities, everyday. I don’t know if you saw the movie, but I know you were the head mental health advisor to the Bipolar Support Alliance of Northern Virginia, so we are curious to get your thoughts on this. -P in Loudoun County
P, I did see the movie, and I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed it as entertainment, however, and not as a fully accurate portrayal of a mental health condition or treatment/recovery process. Whenever Hollywood attempts to address a mental health condition or mental health treatment, they will get some things right and they will get a lot of things wrong. As a psychologist, there are many errors in the film – regarding the diagnosis and symptoms, the therapist’s behavior, the rate of recovery, etc. But I think that there are many positives in the movie that make sense to me as well, the main point being that one’s environment and one’s relationships are essential for bringing about meaningful change. In my opinion, Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, does not really start addressing his problems until after he is released from the mental hospital. The hospital served to over insulate Pat, and once he was released, he was forced to deal with real life relationships and experiences. Over time, and with several painful moments, he began to take responsibility for himself, including his feelings and behaviors, in the context of his important relationships. With small relational successes, he was then able to stay in reality more and more to get his needs met, as opposed to retreating quickly into fantasy or acting-out destructively. In the end, Pat was able to redefine himself, and he was able to find love again. He did so with therapy, medications and a strong support system. Individuals with Bipolar Disorder typically require all three of these very necessary ingredients in order to live successful lives. The movie got those parts of Bipolar Disorder correct, but, I agree with you, that the movie also took several liberties with this serious condition.
Dr. Mike, What are your thoughts on the 6 year old boy from Maryland that was suspended from school for pointing his finger like a gun at another student and saying “pow?” My husband and I feel that the suspension was absurd and that it just shows how politically correct we have become as a society. -G in Loudoun County
G, Yes, I agree that the suspension was absurd. The decision was absurd because first graders developmentally do not have a complete understanding of killing or murdering, and thus they should not be punished or held accountable for what they cannot grasp on a cognitive level. That moment, in my opinion, should have been handled between the teacher and the student, where the teacher should have corrected the student privately. But I do not agree with you that the suspension happened because of political correctness. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, as well as the other horrific shootings over recent years, have left us shaken as a society. I think that school systems are still trying to figure out the new normal when it comes to child safety, and in doing that, perhaps they may go too far at times. So, while I think you are correct in your position, there is also a part of me, given the several school tragedies we have suffered as a nation, that thinks erring on the side of conservative with guns (and even inferences to them) with students is actually a good thing.
Dr. Mike, Our 15-year-old son recently told me that marijuana is safer than alcohol and that there is research to support his position. He even went so far as to say that if we were living in Washington or Colorado or parts of Europe that smoking marijuana would be the norm for us all. Our son has denied using marijuana, but my husband and I are concerned about his newfound excitement for the drug. We have a zero tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol for our children, but we’re not sure our son does anymore. Your thoughts are appreciated. -W in Loudoun County
W, At 15, I would not be surprised if your son has been exposed to marijuana given its undeniable presence. I would also not be surprised if he has tried it or is actively using it given his excitement and advocacy for it. I think it is interesting that he has come to you to argue his points, and it makes me think that he is still looking for some direction from you on the topic as his parents. I think you should start by asking your son why getting high or using marijuana (or any mind altering substance for that matter) is so attractive to him. You can also ask him if any of his friends share his thoughts on marijuana. By letting your son discuss marijuana openly with you as parents, you will get a better sense of his exposure to it. Instead of arguing or reminding your son of your family’s zero tolerance rules, I would speak to him more from a place of concern. It is not that he cannot smoke marijuana, but rather that you would be very worried about him if he did. You should let him know that recreational marijuana use may or may not be worse than alcohol but that you are certain that both are bad for children and teens. You can let your son know that at 15 his brain and body are still developing, and there are some very real dangers in using substances for him now. I think you should also make the strong point that marijuana is still illegal in VA, and it likely will be for some time to come. Should your son get arrested for marijuana use or possession, he could face some very real consequences – consequences that could follow him through high school and perhaps even into college. At 15, your son is aging out of childhood, and police and the legal system will begin to treat him more like an adult for his crimes. Your son may or may not have tried marijuana yet, and he still may, but your talks should challenge him to think through his decisions. Teenagers sometimes do stupid things in attempting to assert their independence. If that happens for your son with marijuana, he should be held accountable and he should be supported to not repeat the behavior.
Michael Oberschneider “Dr. Mike” is the Founder and Director of Ashburn Psychological Services (APS), a private mental health clinic comprised of 12 MD and PhD level mental health clinician. He and his team are here to serve our Loudoun children, teens and adults. To learn more about Dr. Mike and the APS team, please visit: www.ashburnpsych.com or call (703) 723-2999.