I Thought A Mental Disorder Diagnosis For PMS Was Bad. Now There’s One For Tantrums

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Remember when they invented a mental disorder diagnosis for PMS a couple of years ago? The “they” I’m speaking of is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Well now some forms of PMS are called PMDD. Its symptoms are fatigue, depression, irritability, mood swings, and aches and pains. Do these symptoms sound familiar? I experience them every month. Now they are doing the same thing for tantrums. I think we can all guess what those “symptoms” are. Great idea. Why not label our kids as having a mental disorder for being – kids?

Next time your kid pitches a fit, make sure you call it what it really is: disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. The criteria for this disorder would be “severe recurrent temper outbursts that are grossly out of proportion in intensity or duration to the situation.” So, when I took my toddler’s truck away from him this morning because he was slamming it on the floor and waking the neighbors, and he in turn threw himself on the ground, screaming bloody murder for three minutes- that would count right?

I’m using a reference to PMDD here, because this tantrum diagnosis rings the same, uncomfortable bells. Joan Chrisler, PhD, a psychology professor at Connecticut College and president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research says,”It is really appalling that using PMDD for women who want recognition for discomfort is a very clear message that goes something like: ‘OK, OK, we’ll believe you are feeling bad if we get to call you mentally ill for feeling bad.’ And of course, with the diagnosis – comes the treatment. Enter the drugs. From the American Psychological Association:

Two medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat PMDD: Sarafem (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline HTL). Sarafem–repackaged Prozac–was marketed heavily by its manufacturer, Eli Lilly, for PMDD treatment after it acquired another patent–Prozac’s patent was due to expire. Lilly spent more than $33 million promoting the drug to consumers. In the seven-month period after the medication’s approval, physicians doled out more than 200,000 prescriptions for Sarafem.

With children, one could hope there would not be a jump to develop drug treatments. But if we go to the lengths of labeling tantrums as a mental disorder – we’ll have to formulate some tools to deal with the “disorder,” right? The science blog Neuroskeptik is, well, “skeptical” of the new diagnosis. The British scientist behind the blog writes, from The Huffington Post:

The reason the syndrome was named in the first place was because psychiatrists believed that bipolar disorder was being overdiagnosed in American children, and this would provide an alternative. “Is the only way to stop kids from getting one diagnosis, to give them another one?” he asks. “Can’t we just decide to diagnose people less?”

Yes, we could. But that wouldn’t really be the American way.

(photo: Marcell Mizik/