Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 505–531 | Cite as

To Forgive and Discredit: Bipolar Identities and Medicated Selves Among Female Youth in Residential Treatment

  • Leah Gogel Pope
Original Paper


Based on 11 months of ethnographic fieldwork at a residential treatment center in the United States, this article explores the varied meanings that female youth attribute to behavior and the strategic (mis)use of knowledge about psychiatric diagnosis and medication at a time when the scope of behaviors pathologized in young people continues to expand. Drawing upon psychological and critically applied medical anthropology, as well as contributions from philosophy on how classifications of people come into being and circulate, attention is paid to the multiple contradictions at work in diagnosing young people with mental disorders. A detailed examination of an exchange that occurred during one particular group therapy session is presented to demonstrate how psychiatric selves emerge in this environment when conventional labeling practices no longer suffice as an explanation of behavior. This turn to psychiatry reveals both the salience of and confusion around mental health treatment and diagnosis among adolescents, opens up the distinctions young people make between “real selves” and “medicated selves,” and invokes the possibility of psychiatric disorder as a means to both forgive and discredit.


Adolescents Psychiatric disorder Bipolar disorder Residential treatment United States 



This study was generously funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation (Grant #8116) and the National Science Foundation (Index #513127). I would like to thank the residents, staff, and administrators of Edgewood, who so graciously allowed me to conduct research on the campus where they live and work and who so openly shared their experiences with me. I am grateful to Kim Hopper for insightful feedback on earlier drafts of this article, and to Charles Harrington and Lesley Sharp for their guidance during data collection and analysis.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric ResearchNew YorkUSA

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