Thursday, July 21, 2011

Can My Child Have Bipolar Disorder? Pediatric Bipolar Disorder: Fact or Fiction

By Molly McVoy, M.D.   

Can children really have bipolar disorder?  Or, is it a parenting issue?  Is this mental illness overly-diagnosed?

Many of these questions have been raised in the media with increased frequency over the last several months.  What's most concerning is, that instead of focusing on diagnosis and treatment for children with serious mental illness, the debate has focused on who is to blame: is it parents, psychiatrists, drug companies, schools?  The bottom line is that children are suffering, and parents are struggling to keep their children safe, healthy, and happy.  More attention should be paid to actually helping these children, not to pointing fingers of blame.
Pediatric bipolar disorder is a rare but very real illness.  The most recent statistics indicate the mental illness affects approximately 1.5% of children.  Contrary to popular reports, the most recent studies also indicate the rates of pediatric bipolar disorder are not increasing over time, and the rates do not vary between US and non-US populations.1
When pediatric bipolar disorder occurs, it can be very impairing.  Affected children have extreme mood swings – not for minutes at a time but for days.  Children can become suicidal, violent, and often feel quite out of control.  When properly diagnosed and treated, the lives of these children and their families can improve dramatically.  Treatment often involves a combination of mood stabilizing medication and intensive psychotherapy.  But when missed or misdiagnosed, these children may go on to suffer for a lifetime.

Stigma continues to be associated with a mental health diagnosis, and nowhere is that truer than in pediatric mental illness.  Perhaps, in the future, efforts will focus on how to help, not who to blame.

  1. VanMeter, AR, Moreira, AL, Youngstrom, EA. Meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies of pediatric bipolar disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2011, May 31.

1 comment:

  1. Molly - this is a great and timely topic. In my community "bipolar" has been separated from its true meaning and is used to described the problem behaviors of far too many children. This often subjects them to unnecessary medication treatments and parents aren't directed to effective behavior treatments for disruptive behaviors. A good evaluation is the key.

    Interested parents will find guidance in the APA/AACAP Parents Medguide.


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