Shedding Light on Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder

John McManamy Health Guide
  • As many of you know, I publish a free email Newsletter, “McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Report.” Yesterday’s issue was devoted entirely to bipolar children.

    There is a lot of misunderstanding on the topic. Some people think that diagnosing young kids with a mental illness is a plot by drug companies. Others deny that kids can even get bipolar. Others call it a fad diagnosis.

    Many of these individuals are pushing an antipsychiatry agenda. Others are narcissistic bloggers who specialize in interviewing their own keyboards. But even the most rabid in their midst do raise legitimate concerns about putting kids on dangerous meds for a diagnosis we know very little about.
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    Until very recently, there were very few published studies on early-onset bipolar disorder and no places clinicians could turn to for information. The pleas of distressed parents tended to fall on deaf ears, and they were often sent out of the office with prescriptions for ADHD meds or counseled to discipline and love their kids more.

    Then came the book that put the illness on the map. In Jan 2000, “The Bipolar Child” by Demitri Papolos MD and Janice Papolos hit the shelves and became a surprise best-seller. Almost instantly, parents started using the book to educate their child’s clinicians and educators.

    The book was not an isolated phenomenon. Researches such as Joseph Biederman MD and Janet Wozniak MD of Harvard and Barbara Geller MD were starting to publish studies that would make mainstream psychiatry sit up and take notice, and parents were beginning to organize in the form of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation and other groups.

    But it was “The Bipolar Child” that really got the conversation rolling. As one parent noted in a reader review on Amazon:

    "With this book in hand, I approached my son's first psychiatrist who had been treating him for ‘generalized anxiety’ for over a year, regardless of our input about his therapy and meds not working. I told him that my son was a dead ringer for bipolar and that we had a history of Bipolar within our family. He insisted that our son was NOT bipolar. I immediately sought out another child psychiatrist that primarily treated BP children and we eventually had our suspicions confirmed. Without this book, I could not have done it."

    Last summer, the publishers released a third edition, which is basically a whole new book. This is a reflection on what we have learned in the last several years, as well as the authors’ own unstinting efforts in research, education, and advocacy. Soon after the publication of the first edition, Janice and Demitri Papolos established the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation, with an ambitious research agenda involving a consortium of experts from various universities.

    But the authors’ strong suit has always been in listening to parents. When very few others were willing to give these moms and dads the time of day, Dr Papolos and Janice heard them out, took careful notes, and looked for patterns. Without this ability to listen, all the professional expertise in the world means nothing.

  • Dr Papolos had the MD, but his wife Janice was the one who possessed perfect pitch in connecting to readers. To fully appreciate her contribution, one only has to sample the 100 reader reviews on Amazon, from which the following is representative:
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    "The first time I read this book after my 8-year-old son was finally diagnosed properly four years ago, I cried with relief that FINALLY what our family had been living with was right there in black and white … It brings peace to your chaos ... it helps give you control over this crazy situation. As we say in the Bipolar Parents support group, ‘RUN, don't walk - buy this book NOW!’"

    To be continued …

Published On: March 05, 2007