Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ADHD and Bipolar Disorder: The Controversy over Medicating Kids


Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

In 2008, Frontline examined the increasing use of psychiatric drugs for mental health issues in children.  The report uncovered a myriad of problems that should make any parent considering psychiatric drug use for their kids squeamish.  According to Frontline, prescription drugs meant for adults are being used on kids, even though clinical trials demonstrating their effectiveness for kids are lacking.  The side effects of using such drugs can lead to other problems, such as anxiety, compulsive behavior, weight gain and tics, which often causes doctors to prescribe more medications.  In some cases, antidepressants and antipsychotics have led to suicides and deaths.  To make matters worse, pediatricians, and not psychiatrists, are commonly making the mental health diagnosis based on a short visit with the child, with some openly admitting the use of drugs on kids is a gamble.

During the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of kids diagnosed with mental health disorders, ranging from autism to anxiety.  This Frontline episode focuses on the increase in the number of kids diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the early 2000s.  Although the DSM-IV definition of bipolar disorder only applies to adults, a controversial new definition for kids grew out of a group of studies at Massachusetts General Hospital led by Dr. Joseph Biederman.  According to the Frontline story, Dr. Biederman looked at the written criteria of bipolar disorder and ADHD and theorized that many kids with ADHD were misdiagnosed, and actually have bipolar disorder.   In the following years, there was a 4000 percent increase in the number of kids diagnosed with bipolar, and by 2008, 1 million kids were being treated for bipolar, with kids as young as two on prescription medications.  Although many doctors have followed Biederman's recommendation, some psychiatrists do not agree with the practice of diagnosing young kids with the disorder.

Since this episode of Frontline first aired in 2008, a study was published in The Lancet showing that 64% of kids diagnosed with ADHD can improve with a change in diet alone.  While this study brings much needed attention to the role of diet on mental health, a special group of doctors have been using food sensitivity testing and other tools that don't cause harmful side effects to address the mental health problems of kids for years.  One beneficiary of this practice, Jeanie Wolfson, wrote a book, It's Not Mental, about her journey helping her daughter through multiple mental health diagnoses, including ADHD and bipolar disorder.  I talked with her about their experience with prescription drugs, thyroid balancing, and a gluten and dairy free diet, and will feature her interview here later this week.

This post has been shared with Real Food Wednesday.

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