Parents are often, and understandably, hesitant to put their children on psychiatric medications. Sometimes though an appropriate medication, in combination with a comprehensive mental health care plan, can provide relief to a struggling child. There are dozens of psychiatric medications, from antidepressants to anti-psychotics – there’s nearly a medicine for everything these days. This is helpful since medicines are available to suit the particular needs of many different individuals with many different body chemistries. However, psychiatric medications aren’t an exact science. These medications are prescribed by psychiatrists who must carry out a system of trial and error to find exactly what chemicals will best suit your child’s needs.
In order to make this process a bit less daunting, I’m going to provide you with some wonderful resources. Remember, neither Learning Differences World nor I can provide you with medical or legal advice. So if you have questions about any of these resources or about your particular child’s needs, please speak with your child’s psychiatrist.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has a three part guide for parents on psychiatric medication.
Part I explains what psychiatric symptoms and disorders may be treated with prescription medications.
Part II details what medications (both by class and by name) may be prescribed for what disorders. A medication class is based on what type of chemicals are used in a pharmaceutical, and subsequently what effect those chemicals might have on the body.
I highly recommend, Part III, the “Questions to Ask” section. When you’re new to psychiatric medication, it’s difficult to know what questions to ask. This list is comprehensive and even available in PDF format so that you can print it out to take with you to your child’s appointment.
The Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center also has helpful resources for parents.
Knowing what behavior or changes to look out for in your child can help you decide when to consult a psychiatrist and when to consider new mental health treatment options.
Medicine only makes up one part of the therapies available to guide children to mental wellness. It’s important to consider what other types of therapies will be appropriate for your child, in both short-term and long-term treatments.
This guide differs from the AACAP guide in that it includes charts (!), which may make the guide easier to read.
Challenge Specific Medications and How They Work
How Different Antidepressants Work at WebMD
ADHD Medicines at TeensHealth from Nemours
How Bipolar [Disorder] Medications Work from Healthline
Medications for Autism by National Institute of Mental Health
Things to Know
It has been said that ADHD medications may increase the likelihood of alcohol/drug abuse – this is not true. Studies have either found that ADHD medications neither increase nor decrease this likelihood or that ADHD medications decrease the likelihood of alcohol/drug abuse in those who take medications appropriately.
All antidepressants have a black box label warning about the possibility of increased suicidal ideation or behavior in children, teens, and young adults. The studies of children and teens using antidepressant found that this side effect occurred in just 4% of the population. The Mayo Clinic provides more information on this warning – “the antidepressant warnings should be taken as a caution to carefully weigh the pros and cons of using these medications in children and teenagers against the real risk of suicide as a result of untreated depression.”
If you have concerns about the potential side effects of a medication or any potential drug interactions, please talk with your child’s psychiatrist.
Tools to Use
WebMD has a helpful interaction checker, which allows you to enter the prescriptions your child is taking and research whether a specific over the counter, herbal, or prescription medication will interact. It’s very easy to use and contains a multitude of options for medicines. However, your psychiatrist will always be your most knowledgeable resource on drug interactions.
The U.S. Food and Drug Association has a guide on talking to kids about how to use medicine safely, which details year-to-year, age appropriate suggestions for discussing medications with your children.
TeensHealth from Nemours has an article called Understanding Medications and What They Do which is appropriate for teenagers. The article is accompanied by a short quiz on medicine to check for the reader’s understanding of the article and the dangers of medication.