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November 10, 2009

Large Increase in Pediatric Bipolar Disorder?

The Issue

The steady drum beat of diagnosing kids and adolescents across the U.S. with mental illnesses seems to have quickened during the past few years. Increasingly, parents come out of meetings with school counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists et. al. with a diagnosis of pediatric bipolar disorder, early onset bipolar disorder and/or ADHD and a prescription for psychiatric medicines. These diagnoses can both calm and alarm parents.

Several recent posts from Kimberly Read, a regular contributor to About.com regarding bipolar disorder, caught my eye. She sites a whopping 4,000 percent increase in pediatric bipolar disorder; I was intrigued by this statistic and sought out its source.

Source & Conclusion

Source: A 2007 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry measured national trends in outpatient visits that resulted in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and then compared those trends between two age cohorts: a child/adolescent group (1-19) and an adult group (20 or older). The study compared office visits in the 1994-95 period to office visits in 2002-2003. The increase in office visits between these two periods for the child/adolescent group was 4,000%!

For those of you with young boys, there is additional grist for the mill: the study also showed a disproportionate number of boys (67.6%) coming in for visits and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Conclusion: The study concluded that "there has been a rapid increase in the diagnosis of youth bipolar disorder in office-based medical settings." Why this might be the case is the subject for other studies.

What does it all mean?

While there is a massive increase in the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses among kids and adolescents, we don't really know why that is the case. It may be that these illnesses were under diagnosed in the mid-90s or over diagnosed in the later period. It seems that terms such as bipolar disorder, ADHD etc. have come into the mainstream lexicon. Books such as The Bipolar Child (first published in 2000) helped increase the general public awareness about pediatric bipolar and probably gave encouragement to tens of thousands of families to seek out professional help for their children.

We will be on the look out for future studies that shed new light on the dramatic increase of diagnoses of bipolar disorder among kids and adolescents, and offer explanations that help families cope with this illness. As always, please feel free to offer your comments or observations on this post.

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