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

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/ Shutterstock.com)


Be Sociable, Share!
You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
Be Sociable, Share!
  • Diana

    In Victorian times the factory workers would drug their toddlers with opium so that they woudln’t fuss during their mother’s long workday. It’s such a shame we haven’t moved on. Psychologists agree that tantrums are an essential part of child development. But I forget myself. Psychology doesn’t exists any more does it?

    • Stefania

      I agree – they are just being the growing human beings that they are…

  • http://www.facebook.com/portia.mount Portia Mount

    Once again drug companies trying to pimp more meds to parents, ridiculous. This NPR segment is by far the best explanation of toddler tantrums and totally changed my outlook on my three-year old’s (rare but intense) Def Con 5 meltdowns. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/12/05/143062378/whats-behind-a-temper-tantrum-scientists-deconstruct-the-screams

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

      I am definitely going to check that out. Thanks!

    • Stefania

      I’m going to check that out too – thanks for sharing

  • Montreallo

    Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is not a diagnostic for toddlers. It’s a diagnostic for older children (6-10 years old) who have constant, violent tantrums. And these tantrum have to go on for a year. If my 7 year old was turning into a giant rage monster nearly everyday, most of the day, for a year, I would also think something is really wrong and I would look for a diagnostic and treatment. I know it’s fun to write snarky articles, and research into your subject is a bit boring, but come on…


    • ipsedixit010

      Well, Google is H-A-R-D. It’s much easier to copy and paste from another article and facts just get in the way of commentary.

  • bl

    Thank god you ended up a blogger and not a doctor. Oh, your PMS is manageable but annoying? Good for you. Try waking up thinking your life is over, wanting to die, having panic attacks, crying daily and more. And then think about how great it was that someone took this seriously and figured out how to treat it rather than just writing it off as woman troubles.

    When people write off psych illnesses I think they miss the key point that they have to be severe enough to impact your daily life. Of course you see less extreme symptoms of personality and mood disorders in people every day. That’s called having a personality. It’s when things become disordered that you get a diagnosis.

    Maybe in the DSM 6 we’ll get a diagnosis for being judgmental.

    • Alexandra

      PMS can have a very real and very serious impact on your daily life. My therapist told me about her friend who needs to take anti-psychotics for four days during her period, because she feels like she is going to kill somebody and can’t control it.

      I have anxiety, but it worsens during my period. I get panic attacks, can’t concentrate because I I have very intense and feel disassociated with reality which is horrible because I can’t get any work done, have trouble breathing properly, etc.

  • To Celebrate Women

    Honestly, reading this I feel like you don’t really understand how disabling those two disorders can be. These are not run-of-the-mill tantrums (or run-of-the-mill PMS, for that matter), but extreme versions of the symptoms which do require correction in order to live a functional life. Drugs can be over-prescribed, for sure, but for some people they really are a lifesaver, and these diagnoses can help a lot of people – I’m saying this just as I’m coming out of a major depressive episode, for which Prozac was the ONLY solution to get me out of bed in the mornings. Don’t write it off as drug-mongering – have sympathy for those who struggle with it and must make such tough decisions.

  • http://twitter.com/DecaturFlora Flora

    I’m not going to yell at you like some people have, but as someone diagnosed with PMDD I can tell you it isn’t just PMS. It’s awful, it’s depression that lasts and sinks so deeply in to your soul that you don’t think you’re ever going to get away. I’ve lost entire weeks before, just empty in my brain. I’m terrified of when my husband and I start trying to get pregnant because if I don’t get pregnant quickly I am completely unfit to be outside my bedroom or a psych ward when I’m experiencing active symptoms.

    I don’t have an opinion yet on the DMDD diagnosis– I work with children who have a range of mental disorders and this may be fitting depending on what the precise framework is, but being flippant about the over-diagnosis of problems in a world where they do exist isn’t the answer.

  • Jo

    You know, unless you have a child who has extreme tantrums, don’t knock the possibility that this label exists. I know tantrums, I have four children. My fourth child throws crazy, extreme, loud, aggressive tantrums that Easily last an hour. There is no consoling him, there is no a-ha moment, they are knock me down, drag me out tantrums. Sooooo, you can ignorantly call it normal toddler behavior, but as a mom of four young kids, I can assure you it’s not..at all.

  • Pingback: 20 Irrational Things That Are Symptoms Of PMS()