While the United States has seen an apparent epidemic of pediatric bipolar disorder cases over the past two decades, other countries’ numbers have remained flat. Experts in the field are sharply divided on the existence of this epidemic. There are books and studies, as well as documented cases which tend to support the notion of an epidemic. There are also books, research studies, documented cases of misdiagnoses, and even malpractice suits which question the validity of this epidemic. Kathleen Stassen Berger touched on the subject in her text, Developing Person through Childhood and Adolescence. “One U.S. study reports that medical visits for youth under age 18 with a primary diagnosis of bipolar disorder…increased 40-fold between 1995 and 2003” (Berger, 2011, P.339).
Dmitri Papolos, MD, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, along with his wife, Janice Papolos, co-authored a best selling book, The Bipolar Child. The book is written primarily for parents and supports diagnosing and treating children for bipolar disorder. It was featured on television shows; Oprah, and 20/20. The first and second edition sold over 200,000. Interest in the disorder became widespread in the U.S. The book encourages parents to complete a symptom check-list designed to help in identifying potential bipolar disorder in their children. Experts who question the high number of cases diagnosed point out that the symptoms on the check-list are similar to those of other disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). In fact, there are countless opinions on how to tell the difference. The fact that diagnoses are primarily based on parent questionnaires raises questions regarding validity of the process.
Stuart L. Kaplan, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine, writes that there is “…no scientific evidence to support the belief that bipolar disorder surfaces in childhood” (Kaplan, 2011). In fact, he continues, “…evidence against the existence of pediatric bipolar disorder is so strong that it is difficult to imagine how it has gained the endorsement of anyone in the scientific community” Kaplan, 2011). In 2011 Dr. Kaplan authored the book, Your Child Does Not Have Bipolar Disorder. He warns that the mood stabilizers used to treat the disorder are meant for adults and have not been tested or approved for children. Berger concurs, “Because they have been inadequately tested for children, many drugs are prescribed ‘off-label’. They have not been approved for patients of that age or condition” (Berger, 2011, p. 340).
In an article that he authored for Newsweek, Dr. Kaplan cites a particular case of a two-year-old child who was misdiagnosed. Through the evaluation process, a well documented history of child abuse was overlooked. Ultimately the parents misused the adult medications which were...