Re-visiting the Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in Children


In March, research from the Hastings Center suggested that children who are currently diagnosed with bipolar disorder should instead be diagnosed with new conditions like Severe Mood Dysregulation (SMD) or Temper Dysregulation Disorder with Dysphoria (TDD). Now, a follow-up study by the Hastings Center reveals that a shift in diagnosis may not be enough “to help troubled children flourish.”

Lead researcher Eric Parens, a senior researcher at the Hastings Center who also led the earlier study, and his team acknowledge that a new diagnosis of TDD will more accurately describe the symptoms of children who would otherwise be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and it also reflects what is not known about these mental health issues, such as the outcome of the condition. However, Parens and his fellow researchers are concerned that this new diagnosis will not impact the way children are treated.

“Switching from the bipolar label to the TDD label will not decrease the rate of psychopharmacologic treatment,” said the authors. “If applied trivially to any kind of temper tantrum, it will actually increase medication use.” Children who are diagnosed with TDD will probably receive many of the same medications that children with bipolar disorder take, the researchers predict, medications that are associated with significant side effects.

However, regardless of the treatment plan, the main goal of the researchers is to ensure that these children are well taken care of. Study results were published in a New England Journal of Medicine article entitled “Pediatric Mental Health Care Dysfunction Disorder?”

The NEJM article cites one thing that is largely agreed upon: treatment with medications alone is seldom a successful treatment path. The researchers state that children with mental health issues need medication and psychosocial treatment.

“Troubled children, regardless of their diagnostic label, deserve better,” the authors concluded.

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