The Marketing of Bipolar Disorder in Children

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
Here’s a link to Frontline‘s piece on the medication of what they are calling “pediatric bipolar disorder“. A 2007 article by David Healy and Joanna Le Noury in the International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine (citation below) has some sobering and thought-provoking assertions about the marketing and medical treatment of manic depression in general and manic depression in kids specifically. This is an article written by a psychiatrist in a peer reviewed journal. That means a review board of other psychiatrists or researchers reviewed the findings and assertions in the paper and deemed them sound, suitable for publication. Here’s a dirty dozen:

  1. manic depression (rechristened bipolar disorder) was not diagnosed in children for over 100 years
  2. bipolar disorder in children has markedly different symptoms that in adults
  3. we do not know how medications that treat bipolar work
  4. children are medicated with the same powerful psychotropics as adults
  5. there is “scant research into childhood mental illness and drug treatments to combat them”
  6. as recently as 1990 the literature referred to bipolar as manic depression
  7. the rise of the term “bipolar disorder” coincided with the re-branding of sedatives as “mood stabilizers”
  8. the recent class of “mood stabilizers” cannot be legally advertised as treatment for manic depressive disorder as effectiveness does not meet criterion for licensing
  9. “Any sedative agent can produce clinical trial benefits in acute manic states but no company had chosen to do this up till then, as manic states were comparatively rare and were adequately controlled by available treatments
  10. the appearance of a brand new disease “bipolar disorder” and a new class of drugs “mood stabilizers” is unprecedented in psychiatry
  11. the marketing of “bipolar disorder” has changed the perception of the disease dramatically — what was once a disorder 8 times less common that schizophrenia is now promoted as possibly affecting 1 in 20 (or 5% of the population), or 10 times more prevalent than schizophrenia — and the increase in the diagnosis occurs solely in the United States and Canada
  12. “recently no clinician would have accepted this disorder began before adolescence, many it seems are now prepared to accept that it can be detected in preschoolers”

This just scratches the surface of the article, which goes on to detail the marketing strategies employed by big pharma. You can get the link to the article here at the excellent blog Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look.

Healy, D., and Le Noury, J. (2007). Pediatric bipolar disorder: An object of study in the creation of an illness. (2007) 209–221. International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine, 19, 209-221.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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