Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Visit to Stanford University

This past weekend, I went to Stanford’s 6th Annual Mood Disorders Education Day. Overall, I’m so glad I went, there was something special about being in a place where other people understood.

The lectures themselves were too short, so the information presented felt very condensed. I was disappointed that I didn’t learn more, a lot of the information seemed like stuff I’ve already learned from my own resources.

However, the breakout sessions (where we could ask questions to the presenters) was worth the long drive alone. I attended Dr. Manpreet Singh’s session that covered child and adolescent mood disorders. This was a very relaxed setting where we could ask any question. Not only did I find it very interesting, it was very informative.

Here are a few things that stood out in my mind after the event:
(Please note that this is my interpretation of the information presented)

Dr. Singh did confirm that bipolar does look different in children, than it does in adults. When I asked her if mania appears as irritability in children, she said yes it can. If they use irritability as a symptom of mania to diagnosis bipolar illness in children, they must have an additional symptom from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-V). So in this case, the child must show 4 symptoms together for a period of time instead of 3 to qualify as bipolar.

The earlier the mood disorder occurs in the child, the more severe the bipolar illness will be as an adult.

They’ve found through research that talk therapy can change the architecture of the brain. The brain is changeable.

Lithium has shown to actually restore the amygdala in brains where it was too small.

It appeared that the proposed diagnosis of Temper Dysregulation Disorder with Dysphoria (TDD) is not a welcomed label by researchers. It seems to only complicate things even more. It’s just another label without enough information or research behind it.

In the age group of 10-24 year olds, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death. Females attempt suicide more often, but males succeed more. Many of the suicides occurred after an improvement and treatment of suicidal thoughts. After treatment, they now have the energy that wasn’t there before to attempt suicide.

Intact families have better outcomes. (This was encouraging to me.)

I was surprised to see that “shock therapy”, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ETC), is still used in the treatment of depression and is considered a gold standard. It’s 90% effective vs. meds that are only 50% effective. The downside of this treatment is memory loss and the high number of relaps that occur. (This is considered gold standard?)

I was also surprised to see other devices used when meds don’t work. Some are inserted into the brain (TMS), others in the neck (VNS) and others into the chest (DBS). It was very sci-fi.

When it came to substance abuse the following statistics were alarming. In the case of normal population, 17% have a substance abuse disorder. When it comes to Bipolar I patients, this number jumps up to 61%. In Bipolar II it sits at 48%. They also found that alcohol brings on mania in bipolar patients.

In Dr. Terence Ketter’s presentation he shared that through research they’ve found that creativity is enhanced in bipolar disorder. They contribute this to the negative and changeable feelings found in bipolar individuals. With the negative feelings comes intuitive thinking and the changeable feelings brings open-minded thinking.

Researchers are working to establish a brain scan or blood test to detect bipolar illness. We may be 20-30 years away before they accomplish this.

In the end, I realized there are a lot of unknowns. They still don’t know why some mood disorder children grow up to have bipolar illness, while other’s don’t. The message that medication doesn’t cure our kids, but is only a tool along with therapy was strong. It was also crystal clear that medicating your child is a tough process that’s always changing. One speaker, who lives with bipolar illness, pointed out that in the past 10 years since his diagnosis he’s been on 14 different medications. There’s no exact answer and the path is different for everyone.

I have to say that for me, my favorite part of the event was being able to meet other parents going through the same challenges. I met this wonderful couple who opened up and shared their journey regarding their young daughter. It was so incredible to speak face to face with other parents who really understood what it’s like to walk in my shoes. Even though I was miles away, it felt a little like home.


  1. Thanks for sharing the info you learned with us. I'm sure it was very nice to be with some people who actually understand what you're going through. :)

  2. Sigh.....wish I could have been there with you. Most of that info I had read through research as well. My Pdoc gave us an article about how hard it is to medicate a BP child. It was discouraging, but keeps us in tune with reality.

    I hate the idea that the younger the diagnosis the more severe it will be as an adult. I truly am frightened by that knowledge :(

    Thanks for sharing all your info! Glad you got a chance to go!

    Visit Ask a Bipolar

  3. It sounds like a great conference. I'm glad you were able to go. It must have been really nice to meet another family who can relate with you.

  4. What a great summary of the conference! I totally agree--the Q&A was by far the most informative part of the day. Wish Stanford would put on a conference focused just on pediatric mood disorders (I requested this in my feedback), but that's probably asking too much. Meeting you, another parent who gets how hard it is to raise a child with a mood disorder, was also a highlight of the day for us. I love your blog!


  5. Thank you Dorothy, I'm so glad we can continue to chat here : ) That's a great idea about the pediatric conference, I would definitely attend that. If there's anything you want to add about the conference from your own experience, please post it!

  6. "The earlier the mood disorder occurs in the child, the more severe the bipolar illness will be as an adult."

    Holy cow. This is SCARY for us. We noticed IMMEDIATELY that something was "off", and I suspected BP when he was FOUR. Hoping they make HUGE strides in research and treatment over the next few years... :(

    1. I do want to say this is not a definite. I know Manpreet Singh -- she has been my son's doctors for years. One of Stanford's ideas is that if we prevent our children by having manic episodes when they are young -- as much as we can prevent them through medication -- there's a chance they can be healthier and stronger as adults than they were as children. So please don't subscribe to this idea that a bipolar child means a severely bipolar adult. That is NOT necessarily true. With all good wishes to every parent reading this ~ Ann

  7. I am truly touched by your blog in so many ways.


    Robert Villanueva

    1. Robert! Your presentation at Stanford is one I look forward to all year. For you parents who have a hard time making it to Stanford, you can see every presenter online, including Robert, at this link. You can view one presenter at a time, so it's only 20 minutes per person:

      Dorothy -- many thanks for your thoughtful blog. ~ Ann

    2. Thanks for posting here Ann. I too look forward to Robert's presentations every year. Just FYI, this blog is not Dorothy, though she visits here too. Maybe we’ll meet at the next conference.

  8. Thank you so much Robert! I feel honored that you have taken the time to check it out. I am very interested in what you are doing in your outreach to others regarding the stigma of mental illness, would you ever be interested in a guest post on my blog, or I can interview you?
    Mama Bear