This is a question posed a lot recently on talk shows, on health blogs and in newspapers across the country. Why?
Because, health commentators say, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder has gone through the roof in the last ten years, especially in young people.
In fact, children with bipolar disorder seem to be everywhere. Researchers have found that the increase in a bipolar disorder is 40 times greater now than it was in the mid 1990s.
The study, lead by Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, finds that there is probably not an actual increase in the amount of children with bipolar disorder. Rather, there was an under-diagnosis in the past or there is a major over-diagnosis now.
But which is it?
Researchers don't know. Some in the field believe that bipolar disorder has been under-diagnosed and like many other conditions, when experts know more, they can diagnose more. Others claim that bipolar disorder is an easy way to dot i's and cross t's, excuses irresponsible behavior, and also fills millions of money-making prescriptions that people don't need and can actually be dangerous.
Many doctors don't even believe it possible to diagnose a young child as bipolar.
Dr John March, of Duke University is not a fan of medicating all these "bipolar" kids. He considers it "one big experiment" on America's children and can lead to dangerous side effects.
It can also lead to labeling that tells a child they can't amount to too much because they are bipolar and need to accept limitations and on the same vein, can allow people to think that they are not accountable for their actions and behaviors because they have a medical 'excuse' for acting how they do.
One thing we know for sure is that bipolar disorder is real and it's a serious condition. According to EmpowHer's encyclopedia, bipolar disorder is characterized by "extreme swings in mood, energy, and ability to function. The mood changes of bipolar disorder are more dramatic than normal ups and downs. They can hurt relationships and cause poor job or school performance. Bipolar disorder can be treated; contact your doctor if you think you may have this condition.
The two extremes of the illness are mania (when energy peaks, mood may be overly euphoric or irritable) and depression (when lethargy takes over, mood may be very blue). Severe episodes of mania or depression may sometimes be associated with psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, or disorders of thought."
Treatment is varied - from medications to talk therapy:
"The following medications may be used to treat bipolar disorder (many patients are treated with a combination of two or more of these medications):
◦Lithium—a mood stabilizer, often used as initial treatment (helps prevent manic and depressive episodes from returning)
◦Valproate (Depakote), carbamazepine (Tegretol), lamotrigine (Lamictal), topiramate (Topamax)—antiseizure medications, also used as mood stabilizers instead or in combination with lithium
◦Benzodiazepines (clonazepam [Klonopin] or lorazepam [Ativan]) can be used to treat agitation or insomnia
◦Zolpidem (Ambien)—used to treat insomnia
◦Antidepressants (serotonin reuptake inhibitors or bupropion [Wellbutrin])—used to treat depression
◦Antipsychotic medications—used for acute manic or mixed episodes and maintenance treatment
■Classic antipsychotic medications (eg, haloperidol [Haldol]) are not often used because of risks of tardive dyskinesia (uncontrollable movements).
■Atypical antipsychotic medications (eg, risperidone, olanzapine, aripiprazole, ziprasidone, and quetiapine) are more effective with less risk of tardive dyskinesia
Treatment may need to be continued for prolonged periods or indefinitely, depending on the pattern of the illness, to prevent significant mood swings."
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are more than 5.5 million in the United States with bipolar disorder, which is more than 2.5 percent of the population. A fairly staggering statistic - for every fifty people, more than one has bipolar disorder.
Experts are currently examining signs of bipolar disorder in children as young as preschool age (3 to 5 years old).
How do you feel about the surge in the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, especially in children? Do you feel it shows more education and understanding of the condition or do you think it's diagnosis overkill, and a psychiatric "trend" as some critics have said?
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