Evaluation of Bipolar Disorder in Children and Adolescents Referred to a Mood Service: Diagnostic Pathways and Manic Dimensions

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Few studies have examined pediatric mental health services for early-onset bipolar disorder (BD). The goal of this study was to describe diagnostic pathways and manic dimensions in BD among referred children and adolescents.


Data were obtained from a review of the charts of 814 subjects, 2 to 17 years of age, with a complaint of mood disturbances who were referred between 2003 and 2012 to a university-based child and adolescent clinic that specializes in mood disorders. After screening, eligible participants (N=494) were systematically assessed and followed to determine diagnoses on the basis of criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision in accordance with the best-estimate approach. Manic symptoms were subjected to principal component analysis to investigate the dimensional bipolar profile of the sample.


Among the total help-seeking sample, approximately one third of the participants dropped out at intake and, after an average follow-up of 1.7 years, one third had been determined to meet criteria for BD and one third did not fulfill operational criteria for BD. The diagnostic status was changed in 35% of patients: approximately 10% were false positive (going from any bipolar diagnosis to a nonbipolar diagnosis) and approximately 25% were false negative (going from a nonbipolar diagnosis to any bipolar diagnosis). Most patients who converted to a bipolar diagnosis were initially labeled with major depressive disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and had a longer follow-up period. Relevant manic dimensions were elation, grandiosity, and disruption, which explained 41.4% of total variance.


Regular reappraisal and follow-up of children and adolescents with mood disturbances provides a window for detection of BD (eg, of core manic dimensions). A coordinated and hierarchical connection among pediatric mental health services with different degrees of specialization is recommended.

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