Defiance, Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity and 
Manic Depression

Or is it Candy, Cupcakes, Soda Pop, Television and The Couch

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D


"Daddy. I donít want to go to sleep."

It was one oíclock in the morning.

My daughter was jumping up and down on the couch, wanting to watch cartoons, crying and she was angry. She looked just like a defiant child with an attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But since it was the middle of the night, it was more like she was manic depressive.

Caitlyn was possessed by tremendous physical energy. She was mentally and emotionally exhausted. She couldnít pay attention. I couldnít slow her down and I couldnít comfort her.

Caitlyn finally went to sleep, but not without a struggle. She slept nearly 12 hours before she woke up. Later that day I noticed that she was depressed and pretty tired. She said she didnít feel good. She looked like she had a hangover.

The mystery was solved later that day. My neighbor came over to return Caitlynís shirt. During our conversation I learned that she had treated her son and Caitlyn to a Mountain Dew and a huge cupcake desert. My daughter wasnít manic depressive, she was high on sugar, chocolate and caffeine.

Later that same day, "Daddy. Can I have a Mountain Dew for lunch? PleaseÖ Please.. Daddy?"

"No, Caitlyn." I said.

"Then can I have a cup cake?" She asked.

"No Caitlyn. Itís time to have lunch. A cupcake is not lunch."

"But I donít want lunch. I want a cupcake." By now she was acting sad and irritated with me.

Does this sound familiar? It should. Most young kids with school, behavior and emotional problems have poor diets, inadequate sleep, poor structure and less activity than they need.

Diet, Exercise, Sleep and Structure

Attention deficits, hyperactivity, and manic depressive disorders do exist. They can be serious mental health problems. However, the number of children labeled, misdiagnosed, medicated and placed in "treatment" for these problems is alarming. The number of kids needing medications is not necessarily growing. In my experience, the number of kids that are misdiagnosed and placed on the wrong medication is growing. Unfortunately the drug companies are not spending money to study the concerns that a lot of clinicians are seeing.

In the past two years I have treated 11 children and 34 teenagers that were diagnosed by others with labels like oppositional and defiant disorder, ADHD, early manic depression and separation anxiety disorder. They were all medicated at one time with powerful drugs like Ritalin, Depakote, Wellbutrine, Effexor, etc... The teenagers who were also angry and treated with antidepressants were more calm and in control according to their parents. But most of the observed "calming effect" was because of drug sedation that was an associated side effect of their medication.

The parents of these kids naturally felt like failures and they were initially convinced that their childís behavioral problems had to be the result of a mental disorder. This was mostly because their natural response as parents didnít seem to work. Too many professionals diagnose kids based on the type of medication that makes a child act better. Most parents donít buy it, but they donít know where else to turn.

Here is why a lot of the kids look and act like they have behavioral problems or a serious mental disorder.

  • Eating sugar in the morning, sugar in the daylight, and sugar at suppertime.
  • Not eating balanced nutritional meals three times a day.
  • Drinking caffeinated soda pop one to three times a day.
  • Irregular bed time and waking up at irregular times.
  • Few family routines or expectations of age appropriate responsible behavior that are also rewarding.
  • Parents are frequently in conflict in front of their children and they have very different views and behavior when raising their child.
  • Kids have a high degree of unsupervised free time with others kids who are also unsupervised.
  • Kids are also watching television 3 to 5 hours a day because they have nothing else to do.
  • The kids have few structured activities and make little contribution to family life and well being.

When each of the above issues were addressed and resolved, the symptoms of ADHD, "manic depression" and defiance went away in 36 out of the 45 children. The symptoms were much less severe for the remaining 9 children. Two of the children were eventually diagnosed with a central auditory processing disorder (CAPD). CAPD can look like defiance or ADHD. Once again, behavior does not always indicate the cause or the treatment.

Research and studies of treatment approaches for problems like defiance, ADHD, CAPD and manic depression do not apply very well to other kids who exhibit similar behavior. This happens primarily because there can be different causes for the same behavior that is treated in a study.

The combined effects of stress, sugar, caffeine, poor nutrition, lack of structure, as well as family and social conflict can look like defiance, depression, attention deficits and hyperactivity. Many so-called "mental disorders" can be resolved if parents provide appropriate nutrition, diet, role models, parental responses and structure.

copyright 2000 to 2008, Michael G. Conner