How many kids are bipolar?

Bipolar disorders are being diagnosed in one percent of children and teens, a 40-fold increase from 1994 to 2003, reports the New York Times.

Some experts say greater awareness, reflected in the increasing diagnoses, is letting youngsters with the disorder obtain the treatment they need.

Other experts say bipolar disorder is overdiagnosed. The term, the critics say, has become a catchall applied to almost any explosive, aggressive child.

After children are classified, the experts add, they are treated with powerful psychiatric drugs that have few proven benefits in children and potentially serious side effects like rapid weight gain.

Most children diagnosed with bipolar disorders go on to develop symptoms of depression, but not mania, the researchers found. Perhaps these kids are depressed but not bipolar.

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  1. The definition of bipolar II could easily fit most teenagers I knew when I was one.

    Anyone watched Rebel Without a Cause recently? The three main characters (not to mention their actors) were all troubled in ways that we would now term “psychologically disturbed”, but back then, they were just called delinquents or weirdos. The intervention by the psychologist was an attempt to talk to the child, not medicate them. The next intervention was by the cops. Would playing Chicken get you a bipolar diagnosis now? Or is it just that lithium prevents you from playing Chicken, so that’s better?

    Maybe we just would rather have 100s of kids on psychoactives than even 1 Sal Mineo dead.

  2. My 14 year old nephew was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder along with ADHD a few years ago, but he tends to cycle from depression to average rather than full mania. They struggled with the diagnosis over the years but it was clear he wasn’t just simply depressed and were happy when they finally got a diagnosis that made sense. If you had to deal with these kids on a daily basis- the anger, the depression, in the office for fighting, not doing homework, etc. you wouldn’t be so quick to judge those who are trying to get these kids through each day with the stresses in today’s school system.

  3. My nephew is bipolar (also asperger’s, epilepsy, and mild cerebral palsy). All are related to brain damage in his case (he was premature). There is definitely a difference between manic rage and normal temper tantrums (he has four siblings, so I’ve seen plenty of the tantrums from him and the others over the years). The manic rage is qualitatively and quantitatively different. It’s especially obvious when a kid goes from manic rage to manic glee or vice versa – you can see the commonalities that make both “manic”, even if the “mood” seems to be a 180 degree turnaround.

    I would be reluctant to diagnose bipolar predominantly on depression, because mania is generally regarded as more problematic (most likely because mild mania can be such a positive, productive state, so it’s often overlooked until it becomes wildly manic, which then seems more bizzare in comparison).

  4. My daughter was misdiagnosed several times. She was found to be bipolar last year. The medication she is on is really helping her.

    I do think there has been an increase in the number of cases of bipolar children. This maybe because more people are becoming aware of the disorder.