Health Team

Doctors Seeing More Cases of Bipolar Disorder

Posted September 6, 2007

— Most people are familiar with depression, but you might not know much about the other extreme called "mania". It is a manic-depressive illness also referred to as bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder suffer from severe, frequent mood swings.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports about 5.7 million American adults have bipolar disorder.

Researchers used to think bipolar disorder was mostly an adult problem, but a new study shows more doctors are seeing the symptoms in children. The UNC Center of Excellence for Research and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder is conducting research to pin down the causes of bipolar disorder and improve treatment options.

Sean Delaney said he knew he was suffering from depression but was unaware his illness was more severe.

"Just wasn't familiar with that and didn't think anything was wrong at first," said Delaney.

"It's not just feeling good, I mean, it's really excessive. I mean, lots of energy and they might feel less inhibited," said Dr. Jair Soares, director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Research and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder.

The manic phase of bipolar disorder can also include irritability, impulsive or reckless behavior, problems sleeping, irrational beliefs and inflated self esteem. Delaney's experience was not that extreme, but it was troubling enough for him to seek help at the UNC bipolar disorder center.

Delaney takes the drug Lithium, to help stabilize his mood. He also attends psychotherapy sessions and has a good support system.

"That's how we can get best outcomes for people that suffer from bipolar disorder," said Dr. Soares.

The UNC bipolar disorder center provides patients in clinic trials with medications and also conducts research, looking for the genetic and environmental factors that cause bipolar disorder. The goal is early diagnosis, because left untreated, symptoms of mania progress.

"They may go into full blown mania and that takes longer after-wards to get them back to feeling normal," said Dr. Soares.

Delaney is glad he got help when he did.

"I could have been a lot worse off than I am now," said Delaney.

A study in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported diagnosis of bipolar disorder skyrocketed from 20,000 children in 1994 to 800,000 children in 2003.

Dr. Soares said he has seen the symptoms of bipolar disorder in children as young as age six.

30 Comments

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  • amypsychrn Sep 8, 5:46 p.m.

    Psychologists do not prescribe medications, Carolina Fever. Usually, it is a psychiatrist that actually diagnoses the disease and its done after quite a bit of assessment. I work at a state facility (not Dix). Dix is closing. However, those patients needing hospitalization will go to Umstead or Cherry Hospital depending on their home county. There is not enough money being spent in the mental health system in NC to treat our mentally ill patients on an outpatient basis.

    Also, as the field of medical science progresses, things are more frequently diagnosed because doctors can diagnose them.

    I do think that bipolar disease is "socially acceptable" and is over diagnosed due to the pharmaceutical companies financial contributions to physicians.

  • mrtwinturbo Sep 8, 3:53 p.m.

    They can call it anything they like; personally I call it bad parenting. But this is MY opinion. I really hate that today’s society is so afraid of admitting that the parents were the root of the child’s problem. Years ago you could take your kid out back to the wood shed and give him what he really needs. If you do that today you go to jail. Later that kid grows up and commits a crime or some other stupid act. Then someone decided to give it a name, instead of treating the problem when the problems first started.

    I say discipline your child early on instead of blaming it on some disease later in life.

  • ladyblue Sep 8, 3:43 p.m.

    On the flip side there also was a lot of people diagnosed as bi polar when it become so popular with the school teacher. I think in the late ninety and early two thousand year everyone with a madness or temper problem was diagnosed as bi polar. A lot of the problems would ease off if these people would stay off the drugs and alcohol that drives their mood swings. I Have had very deep personal experience with this disease I'd say there are a lot out their diagnosed with it that don't actually have it. If you're around people you'll know the difference in the true bi polar.. I think too many kids are put on menntal drugs that really need something else, like parental discipline....

  • SpunkyGrits The One and Only Sep 8, 3:09 p.m.

    Also: my sister in law was diagnosed with bipolar disease as a teenager. She struggled with it for years, and apparently the right combination of drugs to assist in controlling her symptoms was never found. She died in a traumatic accident related to her bipolar behavior, leaving behind two kids less than 7 years old. Again, this is no joke.

  • SpunkyGrits The One and Only Sep 8, 3:06 p.m.

    I have a daughter who was diagnosed as bipolar approximately three years ago at the age of 14. It was very obvious to me and other members of my family that the mood swings that she experiences are NOT "normal teenage behavior". This disease is no joke. I am not a big fan of using medications unnecessarily simply because I am a nurse and see this happen too much. We went through many medication regimes and two hospitalizations before we finally found the right medication for my daughter. The big issue for her is that she doesn't want to believe that this is a disease that will not go away...as almost any teenager would feel. Please, if you have never had to deal with this disease, don't joke about it. It is a horrible thing to have to live with. Thanks.

  • Fun Sep 8, 9:04 a.m.

    Mental illness needs much research,diagnois and treatment. It is real and causes some very good people to live awful lives not of their own making. What is most disgusting to me are the politicans taking a place like Dorthea Dix and shuttering it. Life's not fair sometimes.

  • djofraleigh Sep 7, 9:50 p.m.

    "Dr. Soares said he has seen the symptoms of bipolar disorder in children as young as age six"

    I don't want to laugh, but by adult standards, all children are crazy, sitting talking to themselves, pretending, playing with imaginary friends, happy as can be one moment because someone looked at them with a smile, then crying and fretting because someone else was picked first in some game.

    Show me bi-polar under a microscope. Grow me some in a dish. Define the line between having it and not having it. Mental illness is real, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, too.

  • lolly Sep 7, 6:03 p.m.

    "I think that treatments with drugs is sometimes misused and they are prescribed to fulfill obligations with drug reps and to also get people in and get them out. Just my two cents..."

    Bingo! 10 minutes chat and write a script...big money

  • dhoggard2 Sep 7, 4:15 p.m.

    This rings true. I swear 1/2 of the women out there are Bipolar these days!

  • bill0 Sep 7, 4:04 p.m.

    I really don't understand why WRAL reports so irresponsibly sometimes. The study they site at the end refutes most of the article. The funder of the study said "The way the label is being used is probably a little exuberant -- not fitting with the strict definition of the illness," Insel said. The disorder "is probably not as common as the very high rates we're seeing." In other words, he was concerned not about skyrocketing rates of bipolar disorder but that doctors were diagnosing too many people as bipolar who really weren't - especially children.

    This is a quote from the actual author of the study "another reason was the mislabeling of children and adolescents with aggressive or irritable behaviors as bipolar, an illness that is treated with powerful psychotropic medications."

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