Human beings, a science fiction author once remarked, have an interesting tendency to blame anything and everything wrong with their society or children on whatever happens to be available at the time. This has been proven true time and time again, particularly when illnesses and conditions are concerned. There have been more than a few historical examples of widespread blame being placed on one condition or another, with some being justified and others not so much. However, if we want to go with a more contemporary example, one need not look further than the current situation involving the number of people – children, mostly – that are being diagnosed as having manic depression. Nowadays, the condition is better known as bipolar disorder.
The data for the prevalence of manic depression among children aged 19 and below is startling. Children in the US that have been diagnosed with the condition have increased from 20,000 in 1994 to a staggering 800,000 in 20903. That’s an almost 40-fold increase that also happens to coincide with a rising number of children who are being prescribed antipsychotic medication. However, there are some problems with this. There is still quite a bit of debate going on about whether or not the condition even exists for children, though nobody doubts that it does exist in adults. There are also a few who see the latest data as a case of over-diagnosing children with the condition, which can occur for a variety of reasons.
One of the possible causes for this wave of manic depression diagnoses is the increasing awareness that the general public has of psychoactive medication and mental illness. While not considered a direct cause, it has been pinpointed as having contributed to the surge, with parents all too eager to blame bipolar for sudden dips in their child’s academic performance. All of this is happening while the parents conveniently ignore other possible explanations, of course. Another concern is how the symptoms of the condition, extreme mood swings, disruptive behavior, and extreme irritability, are difficult to discern from the usual behaviors displayed by children, even by professionals.
The over diagnosis is a definite plausibility, particularly in the current environment. Bipolar has symptoms that not only correspond well with behavior that one might expect of a child, but also with symptoms of a whole host of other conditions. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, in a number of cases, can cause the same symptoms and behavioral changes that bipolar disorder can. Anxiety disorders and depression, which are known to manifest in children under certain circumstances, can also be mistakenly labeled as bipolar. This makes it possible that at least some percentage of the cases of childhood bipolar is actually misdiagnosed conditions.
However, there are also others that contest this assumption. Many parents and concerned groups believe that this “misdiagnosis theory” is simply implausible. Anecdotal evidence has shown repeatedly that the disorder can make children more difficult and unpredictable than they usually are, and that these behaviors are now always the result of “bad parenting.” They also fear the risk of genuine cases being labeled as a misdiagnosis due to sheer pressure from the general community.