The Childhood Bipolar Cage

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:99 mins read
Silhoette of a girl in a bird cage. She is facing the wall. The bottom of the cage is full of brightly colored pills.

edits: added school file image referencing ECT 10/17/2023

Added resources links, minor edits 11/13/2023

grammar edits, added quotes 2/10/2024

Introduction: The consequences of the pediatric bipolar diagnosis

Last year, I began a series about the unintended consequences of childhood bipolar disorder diagnosis (and misdiagnosis). It started with this paper, Biologism in Psychiatry: A Young Man’s Experience of Being Diagnosed with “Pediatric Bipolar Disorder.” As someone who was misdiagnosed with bipolar as a child, I aimed to delve deeper into the topic, focusing on circumstances that can lead to misdiagnosis and a new risk bipolar-labeled kids may face today, in addition to polydrugging and abusive therapeutic interventions.  

ECT for kids

In 2018, the FDA modified the classification of the ECT device from Class III (high risk or experimental) to Class II (walking canes and tongue depressors) with a surprise twist; they lowered the age limit from the initial order from 17 to children 13 years and older. Some thanks can be given to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, and others who advocated for ECT to “be on the menu” for children and teens in this reclassification.

Those of us who had ECT as teenagers found this surprise change particularly distressing. As young people in the mental health system, we were powerless against authorities and the tools they used to control us. As adults, our minds and bodies bear the evolving consequences of electrical injury. The thought of this happening to even younger children is a disturbing reality I can’t stay quiet about.

An open cold case

I view my life before ECT as a cold case where I play the dual role of detective and victim.

This little girl was given a label and thrown to the wolves. She never made it to adulthood alive. She and I share names. I recognize her features as mine, but she is a stranger to me. An echo of someone I used to be. A ghost.

I can never quit my investigation because her terrors endlessly haunt me. My fate now depends on this knowledge as my health declines from decades of undiagnosed illnesses and polypharmacy.

Even though this girl is long dead, I continue my investigation because she deserved to have someone on her side through all this, fighting for her and calling out her abusers. Someone unafraid to ask hard questions to demand justice for her wherever possible.

I began work on this case in 2006. My evidence is limited; my memories of all that happened are patchy because of brain damage. My documentation includes stacks of drug taper journals, a 4-inch thick school file, and one set of ECT records. My body and mind are an open crime scene, awaiting the right test or insight to unmask the real cause of her torment and exonerate her of the many crimes she was accused of.

I’ve read dozens of books, thousands of articles, and blog posts to understand what was really wrong with me and how to get my life back. My discoveries over the last 20 years have been astonishing.

Through my efforts, I discovered hidden health conditions and have recovered from supposedly “incurable illnesses.” In addition to resolving health issues, I now have multiple tests showing brain damage. New tests and treatments continue to reveal unseen aspects of mysteries I thought I had already solved.

Telling my story

Putting what happened into words hasn’t been easy. My experience was complicated, involving multiple overlapping diagnoses, mystery health conditions, and lots of messed up stuff that happened in between.

Not learning to write until my early twenties also held me back. Even though I’ve made progress in the last 10+ years, my abilities have never passed a certain point because of how my brain damage works.

Thankfully, with the rise of AI, I now have tools to help me work around my more stubborn limitations, and after decades, I can finally put my story into words. Even with the best tools, you may come across typos. Life After ECT is currently looking for an editor. Contact me here if you are interested in becoming a volunteer.

Institutionalized Child Abuse 

In addition to raising awareness of children being targeted for ECT, I want to call out the institutionalized child abuse I endured to manage my “mental illness.” As a child, I was abused by teachers, mental health professionals, and doctors.

Eventually, I ended up in a government-run education program that utilized many methods favored in the Troubled Teen Industry and shared the same lasting traumatic results. In this series, I touch on some of what happened to me in this program as it relates to my mental health. In the future, I will include a section on the abuse I was subjected to in this program.

Follow up content

In addition to documenting my experience with the troubled teen industry, I plan to follow up this post with more in-depth explanations of some of the situations and health conditions I mention in this post. I feel they are important for understanding what happens to children in these systems and ways outcomes like mine can be avoided.

Disclaimers and content warnings

In this series, I talk about DSM diagnoses, involuntary drugging, and psychiatric drug side effects like suicidal thinking, akathisia, etc. I also discuss different types of abuse and trauma, including religious trauma.

The term “dominant religion” refers to several Christian denominations that heavily shaped my community in ways that negatively impacted my mental health and countless others.

I love and support individuals in their faith or lack thereof and do not generalize my experience to all Christians. I’m sharing this aspect of my story to raise awareness and help others who may be struggling with religious trauma find resources.

A word on diagnoses and psychiatric treatment

I’ve suffered unimaginably from diagnoses. For those who identify with their diagnosis and are benefiting from psychiatric treatment, more power to you! My aim here is to raise awarness of harm caused by psychiatric interventions, show the limitations of DSM diagnoses, drug risks, how they can affect children, and show other causes of mental distress and the treatments for them.

Identifying and addressing these issues in mental health care is essential to ensuring safe, ethical treatment for everyone.

Other Issues I highlight in this series

  • Different types of trauma. 
  • How the mental health industry can ruin relationships.
  • How the mental health system exploits desperate parents and children.
  • The impact of shame on mental health.
  • Institutionalized child abuse and psychiatry’s role in it.
  • Lack of informed consent for parents and kids for psychiatric diagnosis and treatments.
  • The impact of spiritual and religious abuse on mental health.
  • The harm is caused by a lack of religious boundaries from medical and mental health professionals and certain treatment strategies like Alcoholics Anonymous, which I was forced to participate in while hospitalized as a teen.
  • Systemic bullying.
  • The ambiguous and arbitrary nature of mental diagnosis.
  • The dangers of compliance training and demanding obedience to authorities pose to children.
  • The dangers of overidentifying with a diagnosis.

Please practice self-care if you find these topics distressing, or skip this post altogether.


Anna is a childhood psychiatric drug and a teenage electroshock survivor. She founded Life After ECT to ensure people injured by electroconvulsive therapy have easy access to resources that can help them understand their injuries and find a path to recovery.