New Yorker on child bipolar controversy

April 9th’s New Yorker has a cracking article on the current controversy on whether it’s possible (or even valid) to diagnose bipolar disorder in children.

The article comes at a time when the diagnosis of bipolar disorder is being increasingly used for young children with behavioural difficulties.

It has been of particular interest after the tragic case of four-year-old Rebecca Riley, who died, according to the prosecutors, due to an overdose of psychiatric drugs prescribed after being diagnosed with the disorder.

Her parents, who have been accused of causing her death, have denied the charges.

The case is continuing but it has raised a number of questions about whether it is possible to diagnose the condition in children, or whether it even appears so early in life.

The New Yorker piece traces the popularity of the diagnosis to a book called The Bipolar Child, where psychiatrist Demitri Papolos and his wife included a screening questionnaire so parents can ‘diagnose’ their children.

Notably, there are currently no widely accepted diagnostic criteria, and a number of clinicians quoted in the article criticise the book for including vague or otherwise normal experiences (such as ‘irritability’ or ‘boredom’) as part of the diagnosis.

Unfortunately, the article isn’t available in the New Yorker website, but it was written by Dr Jerome Groopman who usually posts all his articles for the magazine online, so hopefully it should appear there shortly.

Otherwise, catch it in the shops or down your local library.

Link to April 9th New Yorker table of contents (via TWS).
Link to Jerome Groopman’s New Yorker articles.

3 thoughts on “New Yorker on child bipolar controversy”

  1. Thanks for taking a critical look at this issue. I have a 10 month-old daughter, and it’s a frightening thought that she might one day be diagnosed with ADHD or bipolar disorder simply for acting as a normal child should.
    I also believe this trend is a detriment to our society that will become evident when these children grow up and are unable to deal with any emotion or urge at all. They’re being taught that self-control and happiness are obtained through medications.
    Lastly, a questionnaire so parents can diagnose their children without the input of a licensed professional?! Absurd!

  2. minda25, may I suggest you spend a few hours down at your local mental health care clinic. There you will see first hand what a child that has Bipolar disorder has to suffer through. Your comments are cruel to the thousands of families that suffer with this debilitating disease. We’re not talking about normal child development here. May you never have to deal with your child pulling knives out of drawers on their siblings, jumping out of moving vehicles or escaping from school. Dr. Papolous is not trying to have parents diagnose their children, it’s a mere guide line for parent who are unsure if what they are experiencing is normal. The book states quite clearly to consult a doctor.

  3. For a behavior or emotional problem to be diagnosed (using the DSM-IV), it must be causing “significant distress and impairment” that interferes with important aspects of a person’s life over an extended period of time.
    A child’s ordinary behaviors and emotions are not going to meet that standard, even if they drive parents up the wall now and then.

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