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Keywords:

  • bipolar disorder;
  • children;
  • family intervention;
  • mood disorders;
  • psychoeducation

Objectives:  Multi-family psychoeducation groups (MFPG) have been developed and tested for adults, but not for children with bipolar disorder (BPD). We present data from a pilot study of our manual-driven MFPG treatment for families of children with mood disorders and address two questions: Do families of children with BPD and families of children with major depressive disorder/dysthymic disorder (MDD/DD): 1) differ at treatment entry?; 2) benefit equally from intervention?

Method:  A total of 35 children (n=16, BPD; n=19, MDD/DD) aged 8–11 years and their parents were randomized into immediate MFPG plus treatment as usual (TAU) or wait-list + TAU and assessed periodically.

Results:  At baseline, there was a trend toward parents in BPD families being more knowledgeable about mood symptoms than parents in MDD/DD families (p < 0.04). Additionally at baseline, children with BPD evidenced greater mood severity historically and a trend toward more hospitalizations, day treatment, outpatient treatment, medication trials, and placement in special education classrooms than children with MDD/DD. Immediately following and 4 months post-treatment, both BPD and MDD/DD families described having gained knowledge, skills, support, and positive attitudes during treatment. MDD/DD families increased their knowledge of symptoms to the same level as BPD families.

Conclusions:  While BPD families enter treatment with more impaired children and more extensive treatment histories, both BPD and MDD/DD families benefit from intervention. The clinical issues concerning combining families of children with bipolar and depressive spectrum illnesses in groups are discussed. Clinical impressions suggest that such combinations are clinically feasible and potentially beneficial.