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Research Papers on Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder

It has long been a mis-perception in the mental health community that bipolar disorder develops no earlier than puberty. This is simply not true.  Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder (COBPD) occurs as early as four years of age. The reason the medical community is slow to accept this fact is because children do not display the classic DSM-IV symptoms of bipolar illness. Their cycles are erratic.  Depression doesn’t manifest in the same way in children as it does in adults.  Children suffering from bipolar illness are at a great disadvantage for two reasons.Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder 

  1. COBPD is often misdiagnosed as ADHD
  2. The drug choice for children is limited

First, 94 percent of children suffering from Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder also meet the DSM-IV criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD) because the symptoms in children are indeed similar.  This causes treatment for bipolar disorder to become very complex. Doctors therefore treat the ADHD first, assuming that Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder is rare.  However, research papers on bipolar disorder insist that the medical community first consider the medical history of the patient’s family and rule out bipolar illness before prescribing Ritalin. These researchers found an alarming trend among bipolar children that, of the 73 children studied who were first treated with Ritalin, 65 percent were thrown into severe manic states or became psychotic, and had to be hospitalized.

Bipolar Disorder Hardship and Children

The second hardship children with Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder must endure, besides the obvious hardship of having the illness at all, is that drug choice for children is very limited. Very few drugs have been tested on children, and of those, the long-term effects are not known. Some anticonvulsants, such as Depakote and Tegretal, have been used in children for seizures for some time, and have been shown to abate rapid mood cycles in children. In cases where these drugs are ineffective, children may be placed on Lithium, or on related medications such as anti-psychotics or antidepressants.

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