The recent report of the immense increase in children diagnosed with bipolar disorder is reinforced by the explosion of sales of antipsychotic medicines in recent years.

Pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Pfizer all report the prescriptions for drugs relating to the treatment of bipolar disorder have more than doubled from 2003 to 2006. Currently, it stands at about 4.4 million.

The vastly expanded diagnosis of bipolar disorder makes children the fastest-growing segment of the $11.5 billion U.S. antipsychotic drug market. But the added revenues and expanded treatment for bipolar disorder has not been met without quite a bit of controversy.

A recent report on the growing incidence of bipolar disorder in children stated that the number of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder rose from 20,000 in 1994 to 800,000 in 2003. The report also indicated that with that trend the number of children being labeled as having bipolar disorder today is even greater.

Some experts explain that this increase in diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the resulting increase in prescriptions are providing a much-needed service to children. Others, however, are calling the increased use of bipolar disorder a dangerous fad that is only exposing children to serous risks with the use of the related medicines, including weight gain and diabetes.

One of the critics is Joseph Woolston, chief of child psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, which is affiliated with Yale University. 'The diagnosis [of bipolar disorder] has been broadened considerably,' he said, 'and I think that's a big problem.'

In August of 2007, Johnson & Johnson received U.S. regulatory approval to market its drug Risperdal to children older than nine suffering with bipolar disorder. This is significant because there is no other antipsychotic medicine available for children with bipolar disorder. Lilly and Bristol-Myers are both currently seeking pediatric clearance for their bipolar disorder medication.

Representatives of the pharmaceutical companies explain that their firms do not specifically target children with bipolar disorder in their marketing strategies. However, they also admit that many doctors do prescribe their drugs for youngsters with bipolar disorder if they feel it's warranted.

For many years bipolar disorder was seen as form of mental illness characterized by wide mood swings that occurred in adults. It's only been in recent years that professionals have been diagnosing children with bipolar disorder.