"The Bipolar Child"

[JULY 12, 2000]   "The Bipolar Child: The Definitive And Reassuring Guide To Childhood’s Most Misunderstood Disorder." Demitri Papolos, M.D. and Janice Papolos, Broadway Books, 1999, 398 pages.

According to the "Mayo Clinic Family Clinic Health Book," bipolar disorder is a manic-depressive illness that is characterized by recurring periods of mental illness in which episodes of excitement and hyperactivity either occur alone or alternate with periods of depression.



In their new book, "The Bipolar Child," Demitri and Janice Papolos examine this disorder in the earliest years of children. According to the authors, "It has long been thought in the psychiatric community that children could not be given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder until the mid to late teens and that mania in children was extremely rare…the disorder can begin very early in life and is far more common than was previously supposed."



The authors’ 1987 book, "Overcoming Depression," contained a small section on mood disorders in children. In the following years the volume of research on bipolar disorder in children exploded, and the authors were encouraged to write a companion volume on this subject. Their primary motivation in writing this book was to "write a book that would be as comprehensive and reassuring about the childhood form of bipolar disorder…to let parents know what is and is not known about the condition and how to get proper help for their children."

One of the influences on this book was the authors’ subscription to BBParents, an e-mail listserv subscribed to and frequented by parents of bipolar children. This listserv offered the authors a day-by-day glimpse into the lives of people affected by the illness. By being privy to the innermost thoughts and concerns of these parents, the authors had an intimate look at the effects that bipolar disorder can have on families – something that is seldom seen in clinical visits.

From their monitoring of the listserv, the authors developed an extensive questionnaire for submission to the site’s subscribers. The result? According to the authors the response was overwhelming. Not only did the subscribers participate, they also sent hospital and school records, diaries, charts, notes and anything else they thought would help. From this data the Papolos team uncovered some disturbing findings about the diagnosis and treatment of these children. These findings are a focal point of the book’s discussion on bipolar disorder.


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The book is divided into four general categories: diagnosis and treatment, inside the brain and mind, living and coping with bipolar disorder, and life goes on. Within these broad categories are several chapters related to each topic.

Among the book’s most important chapters are "Prescriptions for Treatment," "What Causes This Condition?" and "The Impact on the Family." "Prescriptions for Treatment" contains a comprehensive analysis of the different drugs, medications and mood stabilizers available on the market today.

The latest scientific information on the causes of bipolar disorder is discussed in the second chapter; the diagrams of the brain and the nervous system help support the data.

One of the most important chapters describes the different emotions and reactions that the family of a bipolar child will face. Emotions can range from shame, fear, and grief to anger, rage and an adverse effect on marital relations.



"The Bipolar Child" is a groundbreaking work on a subject that has drawn increasing attention in the medical and psychiatric professions. The authors have presented a comprehensive and well-researched analysis of this illness and its effect on young children and their families. It is clear from their writing that Dr. and Mrs. Papolos have great empathy for those afflicted with bipolar disorder.

In the closing paragraph of their introduction they write, "It is our fervent hope that this volume will shed new light on the enormous complexities of early onset bipolar disorder, all the while offering support and intelligent solutions to family members." They have succeeded in meeting this goal. "The Bipolar Child" is recommended to anyone who wishes to gain a better understanding of the recognition, diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder in young children.


For more information, visit the library at 725 Pekin St. or call 217-732-8878.


[Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]


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