Extended silence and bipolar disorder

by Pat

My son went to a ten day silent meditation course. Ten days of complete silence and long term meditation all day every day. When he got back he became euphoric and then as he 'came down' from that state he experienced some jumbled thoughts (not hallucinations) it seemed to be an episode like someone with bipolar disorder might have. He had also very recently returned from six months in Asia (so culture shock and time zone) and mid 'episode' additional travel and a major disruption in sleep. He is very healthy. Practices yoga and does not do drugs or alcohol . Would you assume a bipolar diagnosis based on these facts and prescribe medication? Up until now he had had a few issues with relatively mild depression - nothing manic or irrational and he has been fine since. The psychiatrist PA seeing him seems hell bent on a BPD diagnosis and Abilify. Seems premature. Couldn't that meditation course have triggered something that does NOT necessarily mean he has BPD?

Thanks for your excellent website.

Ben's reply:
This is a scenario I have seen before... sort of the perfect storm. The mainstream approach to mental illness treats it like it is an infectious disease that you just catch and then need to be medicated for - perhaps for the rest of your life. This approach rarely takes into account any of the factors that triggered the symptoms. One person may have the symptoms because they were severely sleep deprived, while another had a big emotional trauma, another is having postpartum symptoms and another had a reaction to taking an anti-depressant or a stimulant... yet all of them might have the same symptoms that are labelled "bipolar" and then medicated just the same.

For some people, medication achieves the desired result of eliminating symptoms of mania, calming the mind, improving sleep, etc. And some doctors might then slowly taper off and see if the patient remains stable. Then there are some who would pronounce them Bipolar and want to keep them on meds for the long term. It's not for me to say what is right, as I am not a medical doctor. But I would recommend that you find a doctor who has an approach and a perspective that is in alignment with your own feelings and sensibilities.

It would also probably be helpful for him to have a therapist who can support him in other ways to understand what is going and stabilize his mood. Intensive meditation can definitely overwhelm a person who is not ready for that, or who already has a vulnerability or mild imbalance.

Best Wishes,
Ben Schwarcz

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