The New York Times reports on the alarming increase in the diagosis of bipolar disorder in children:
The number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder increased 40-fold from 1994 to 2003, researchers are to report on Tuesday, in the most comprehensive study to look at the controversial diagnosis. And experts say the numbers have almost certainly risen further in the years since.
But others argue that bipolar disorder is overdiagnosed. The term, they say, has become a diagnosis du jour, a catch-all now applied to almost any explosive, aggressive child. Once children are labeled, these 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.
“From a developmental point of view, we simply don’t know how accurately we can diagnose bipolar disorder, or whether those diagnosed at age 5 or 6 or 7 will grow up to be adults with the illness,” he said. “The label may or may not reflect reality.”
Most children who qualify for the diagnosis do not go on to develop the classic features of adult bipolar disorder, like mania, researchers have found. They are far more likely to become depressed.
Others say their children have suffered from side effects of drugs given for bipolar disorder, without getting much benefit.
Ashley Ocampo, 40, of Tallahassee, Fla., the mother of an 8-year-old boy, Nicholas Ryan, who is being treated for bipolar disorder, said that he had tried several antipsychotic drugs and mood stabilizers, and that he had been better lately.
But, she said in an interview, “He has gained weight, to the point where we were struggling find clothes for him; he’s had tremors, and still has some fine motor problems that he’s getting therapy for.”