- Children diagnosed with bipolar went on to have a manic episode 44% of the time.
The argument then goes that we must treat child bipolar early and intensely in order to prevent these kids from going on to develop bipolar disorder as adults. So, were these kids receiving treatment? Definitely. These kids received whatever treatment was offered in the community, which doubtlessly included stimulants, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. On many occasions, they were probably undergoing some serious polypharmacy driven out of desperation rather than any sort of reasonable evidence base.
So did the treatments work? 88% of people who had an original manic or mixed episode recovered, but 73% of these kids then had a relapse afterward. And if nearly half went on to experience mania as adults, doesn't that mean that treatment was not exactly working very well? At this point, the authors have not reported what treatments were used, but I am willing to bet that the polypharmacy I mentioned above was often in place and that very few of these kiddos weren't receiving regular psychopharmaceutical treatment.
Bipolar was not the only problem facing these kids. 94% had an ADHD diagnosis at some point during the 8-year followup and a similar number had some sort of disruptive behavior disorder diagnosis. So it's not just bipolar. As I've been saying for a while now, bipolar is just the name du jour for kids whose behavior is really, really bad. We used to call it ADHD or conduct disorder and now it's ADHD, conduct disorder, and bipolar disorder just abbreviated as "bipolar," driven by the market reality that there are quite profitable drugs used to oh-so-successfully treat kiddie bipolar. But it seems they can't be working that well if 73% of these kids who recover from an episode end up relapsing.
I would love to write more about how bipolar was diagnosed in these kids, but I've not been able to land a copy of the measure used to make bipolar diagnoses in the study. The authors state that they only counted episodes that met DSM-IV criteria; if I ever find time, I might look at this more closely.
And note that we don't know what happened to the youngest kids in the study (those who started at ages 7 or 8) because none of them were adults at the end of this study. This study did not include anyone younger than 7, so the rash of 4 year olds being diagnosed as bipolar is left unexamined.
Bottom Line: Assuming that the diagnoses were valid, this study makes me think that:
- Kids who show really bad behavioral and emotional problems often become adults with major psychological problems. Not exactly earth-shatteringly surprising.
- Treatments for child/adolescent bipolar are not working very well.