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Bipolar Express: Mental ailment expands rapidly among youth

The rate of bipolar disorder diagnoses for children and adolescents seen as outpatients by physicians shot up dramatically between 1994 and 2003, raising new concerns about possible overdiagnosis of this severe mood disorder among young people.

National medical surveys done during that time period show that the number of office visits that resulted in a bipolar diagnosis for kids and teens increased by a factor of 40, say psychiatrist Mark Olfson of Columbia University and his coworkers. That figure far exceeds the doubling of bipolar diagnoses for adults over the same stretch, the researchers add.

The team's findings appear in the September Archives of General Psychiatry.

Further research needs to examine how physicians decide that a child's emotional travails qualify as bipolar disorder and how often youngsters with other mental disorders get misclassified as bipolar, the investigators suggest.

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