Q:  Are diagnoses of Bipolar in Teens Accurate?

Are diagnosis of Bi Polar disorder in Teens accurate? Why do people doubt that most teens have bipolar? Do they chalk it up to normal "kid" mood swings.

Im doing research on this if you could help me I would be greatful.

Hey Jessi -- 
One of the leading researchers in this field, Dr. Hagop Akiskal (he runs UC San Diego Mood Disorders Clinic), says this is no mystery.  He says, think about it: most teenagers meet the criteria for hypomania -- because the symptoms are about the same as "falling in love"!  Everything looks rosy, you have great confidence and hope for the future, you make lots of new plans, you don't seem to need to sleep (when he/she is there, at least), you can spend money you don't have, talk so fast your friends are looking at you like "hmm", and you can find your mind flying over hope and possibility.  

And since to get a diagnosis of "bipolar disorder" all you need is hypomania, perhaps that explains why people begin to doubt the diagnosis: like, not everybody can have it, right?  The problem is that there is no clear "cut-off" between obvious bipolar disorder that no one would doubt, and pretty normal teen experiences.  It's a "spectrum" from "normal" to "not normal", and there are people all along that continuum.  You probably know someone who keeps it together and gets good grades and gets along with her parents -- who also is pretty "up", social, verbal and outgoing?  But who doesn't have "mood swings"?  (I hope there's one or two around you...).  

So there's a lot of controversy about who merits a "diagnosis" and who doesn't.  For your research, check out this questionnaire test approach to "diagnosis"; the reference is at the bottom.   

Dr. Phelps


Published March, 2001