"I wanted this film to tell their stories in their own words. No narration, minimal doctor's overviews and anchored in the daily ups and downs which parents and kids face."
What drew you to this subject?
Having children myself, I have witnessed extreme mood swings and wondered at times where my own kids fall on the spectrum of 'normalcy.' Then I began seeing articles on pediatric bipolar disorder in which parents were criticized for medicating their children, where the diagnosis was clearly the center of intense debate, and I wondered what life was like from the families' perspectives. It seemed to me that their experiences were being overlooked, often misunderstood, and needed to be portrayed.
How did you gain the trust of your subjects?
I told them about my intentions, which were quite simple, really. I wanted this film to tell their stories in their own words. No narration, minimal doctor's overviews, and anchored in the daily ups and downs which parents and kids face. I explained that their openness would help a general public overcome possible negative stigmas regarding children with mental illness, and help people sympathize with how unclear the answers are at this point.
Why is it so difficult to diagnose bipolar mood disorder?
One reason is that there is no separate criteria for children in this country. The diagnosis is based on the expression of the disorder in adults. Also, children, of course, have hormonal and brain development shifts as they grow, and so it makes it even more difficult to separate out behavior extremes from what is within normal range and what would benefit from medical attention or special treatment.
"Living with pediatric bipolar, largely an 'invisible disease,' tends to isolate these families who need greater understanding from both the professional world and from neighbors and schools."
Why is it so misunderstood by the general public?
I think that the media has done a disservice to the disorder by often criticizing parents for resorting to medications which have not been FDA approved. It is easy from the outside to feel parents are cavalier about their kids treatment, and that since most kids have outbursts at some point, that it is a behavior problem which is the parent's 'fault.'
What were the greatest challenges you faced in telling this story?
I was not sure about how five different families would be intercut, but was amazed to find that they all supported each other, yet their various stories illuminated separate aspects of coping with the disorder.
Since the film was completed, have there been any developments or breakthroughs in the treatment of the disorder?
Not that I am aware of. I have learned that the area of research has little funding, relative to, say, autism, and yet the numbers of children who are diagnosed every year increases.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I hope that viewers come away with compassion, that they see this is a disorder which can surface in any family. Living with pediatric bipolar, a largely 'invisible disease' tends to isolate these families who already may face fears that their children will hurt themselves, and who need greater understanding from both the professional world and from neighbors and schools. I also hope that that audiences learn that the choice to medicate one's own children is not easy to make; for the five out of five families I filmed, trying various medications was the last resort and one often made out of desperation and love.
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