‘Pediatric bipolar disorder’ (PBD) is a controversial diagnosis with varying rates of clinical diagnosis. A highly cited meta-analysis (Van Meter et al. 2011) of a dozen epidemiological surveys suggested a global community prevalence of PBD of 1.8%. This was updated to 3.9% with eight additional surveys (Van Meter et al. 2019a). In terms of the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, the heterogenous community surveys were arguably unsuitable for statistical meta-analysis and warranted a narrative analysis. A narrative analysis (Parry et al. 2018) of the original 12 surveys concluded rates of PBD were substantially lower than 1.8% and led to a nine-article debate on the validity, arguable overdiagnosis and iatrogenic aspects of the PBD diagnosis (e.g. Carlson and Dubicka Child Adolesc Mental Health 21:86-87, 2019). This article extends the narrative analysis to include the eight newer community surveys.
A narrative analysis of the methodologies and the prevalence rates reported by the epidemiological surveys.
Across all twenty surveys there was significant variation in methodologies and reported prevalence rates. Of the eight newer surveys, five (two Brazilian, one English, one Turkish, one United States) provided information of pre-adolescent prevalence rates of bipolar spectrum disorder. These pre-adolescent rates were zero or close to zero. Rates of adolescent hypomania and mania were higher, but follow-up data in two studies suggested hypomania might sometimes achieve prolonged remission or not lead to adult bipolar disorder.
Methods in the original surveys vary and criteria used for various bipolar diagnoses were not always fully described. This limitation applies to a narrative analysis but also to a statistical meta-analysis.
Bipolar disorder is very rare in childhood and rare in adolescence. PBD as a diagnostic construct fails to correlate with adult bipolar disorder and the term should be abandoned. Hypomanic syndromes in adolescence may not always progress to adult bipolar disorder. Early diagnosis of bipolar disorder is important, but over-diagnosis risks adverse iatrogenic consequences.