Bipolar Disorder Research Funding – Poorly Directed

Prepare yourself for a bit of a bipolar rant!

An article entitled “Bipolar Disorder in Youth Not as Chronic as Thought” in Medscape Pharmacists e-newsletter came across my email and while I was initially quite interested, I soon became annoyed.
Bipolar and Borderline (BPD)A recent study done at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine shows that bipolar disorder may not always be a chronic condition. While this may look like good news and you might see it pop up in the media as a big positive – cheerleader kind of thing, it really isn’t.

The study followed 413 children and adolescents who were 7 to 17 years of age and diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the time of study enrollment.  The patients and family members were interviewed about every eight months, for eight years.  What they found was that some of the patients were “ill” most of the time, some were “well” most of the time, and some were both ill and well.  Sorry, but that result isn’t astounding.

I find a couple of things wrong with the published results.

  1. They didn’t say whether the patients were stabilized on medication during the study – what medication, whether the medication was changed, whether the patients took the medication – in fact the publication doesn’t mention medication at all.
  2. The data collected was based on “interviews.”  Sorry, but being bipolar inherently predisposes you to lack of complete transparency.  Bipolar patients are likely to hide and lie – whether it is purposefully or subconscious behavior, it is a known problem.
  3. The patients were ages 7 to 17 when entering the study, meaning they were 15 to 25 at the end.  Many of the patients went through puberty during the study and what pubescent child or the post-pubescent adolescent is truly stable…or honest for that matter.  Interviews with the family may have partly balanced this but we also know how “well” our families may know us…some, not at all.

What I did find a little more relevant was that the patients tended to be “well” more of the time if they:

Though true, this is not astounding either.  It is easily recognized that if your family has a history of mental disorder, you are more likely to have a mental disorderBipolar disorder and substance abuse go hand in hand, and sexual abuse makes nothing more manageable.

Incidentally they also showed that patients would be more stable if they:

•    Had less history of severe depression, manic or hypomanic symptoms
•    Had fewer subsyndromal episodes

So basically, if the patients had a history of fewer episodes, they would have fewer episodes……really?
Not discounting the fact that any academic attention given to bipolar disorder, especially in juveniles should be welcome, I am disappointed because the study results didn’t show anything.  This is all information that anyone could guess – and the funding for mediocre “non-results” could have gone elsewhere.

This sort of news can easily lead to an “it will go away” thought process, lack of medication and lack of attention to and acknowledgment of the real and long-term challenges that a bipolar patient can face.  Yes, let’s all believe that bipolar disorder is not a chronic medical condition… let’s undo all the progress that has been made.

Melissa Lind

Academic attention given to bipolar disorder should be welcome!


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