mother giving daughter prescribed psychiatric medication

The Truth About Children and Psychiatric Medication

An astonishing 17.1 million children in the United States live with or have recovered from a mental illness. That is more than the number of children in the country who live with AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined. Although the scope of the issue is massive, many families worry about getting psychiatric care for children due to persistent stigma, among other factors.

At LifeStance Health, we believe that families should be able to make informed decisions about their care. That’s why it’s important to spread awareness and debunk some of the myths surrounding psychiatric care for children. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that we get from parents who are considering psychiatric medicine for their children.

Aren’t Children Overmedicated?

The idea that children receive psychiatric medication far too often and at doses that are too high is false. In fact, children with psychiatric disorders are more likely to go without the medication they need.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in every four people will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. Approximately half of all psychiatric illnesses begin before the age of 14 years. Yet, the number of children undergoing psychiatric treatment does not reflect these numbers.

When children do get treatment for psychiatric illness, they sometimes only go to their primary care providers. While these providers can and do give great care, they do not specialize in psychiatric medicine. As such, they may prescribe a larger dose than is necessary. Psychiatrists and psychiatric advanced nurse practitioners have the specialized training they need to find the lowest dose that will still help the child.

Are Lifestyle Changes an Alternative?

It’s true that some lifestyle changes can help reduce the symptoms of mental and behavioral illness. However, these changes should not be seen as alternatives to medicine.

For example, consider a teenager with depression. While exercise is a proven way to reduce the symptoms of depression, it should not be used alone as a treatment for the disorder. Instead, the family and care team can devise a plan that may include any combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, and psychiatric medicine.

Are Psychiatric Medications Safe for Children and Teens?

Your mental health provider will weigh the potential risks of medication against the risks of no medication in order to determine if a prescription is safe. While all medication carries some risk of side effects, the risk of untreated or undertreated psychiatric illness is high.

Psychiatrists and psychiatric advanced nurse practitioners only prescribe psychiatric medication in the event that the risk of going without that help is riskier for the child than potential side effects. However, you should always monitor your child for side effects when they begin a new medication. Your provider can tell you what signs to watch out for and what to do if you see the potential side effects.

Medication management appointments help make taking psychiatric medicine safer and more effective. In these follow-up visits, providers can assess the child’s symptoms and any potential side effects. They can recommend changes to the dosage or medication as needed.

Will My Child Become Permanently Dependant on Medicine?

Your child may or may not need medication throughout their lifetime. This will be determined not by if and when they start taking medication, but by the nature of their disorder. Some children fully recover from disorders as they grow, and do not need medication in adulthood. However, other disorders may be chronic and require lifelong treatment to improve the quality of life.

We know that deciding to try psychiatric medication for your child is a difficult choice. Please feel free to ask one of our providers any questions you have about the process. If you think medication may help your child, contact us to get started.