The truth about kids and mental health medicines

About 6.3 percent of kids aged 12-19 are on prescription psychotropic medication according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  This appears to be an increase over previous years, although comparable data is not readily available.

These children take mediation primarily for two problems—depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Males are more likely to be prescribed medication for ADHD (4.2 percent for males vs. 2.2 percent for females).  However, girls were given medication for depression at a rate twice that of boys, 4.5 percent for girls vs. 2.0 percent for boys.

Does this represent a pseudo chemical solution to real problems, or the appropriate treatment of kids with psychiatric disorders? Parents and professionals are unsure.

Those who have concerns about this trend view it within a broader context of using drugs to control our moods.  Drug abuse among our teens remains high. Twenty-four percent of high school kids reported binge drinking in the past two weeks, defined as having 5 or more alcoholic beverages in a row. About 25 percent of high school seniors reported using illicit drugs within the past 30 days.

The behavior of our youth reflects a greater societal acceptance of chemical mood alteration. One teen facetiously asked me if I thought that the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos playing in the Super Bowl was related to the fact that both states had recently relaxed their regulation of marijuana!

However, let’s not confuse drug abuse with the legitimate prescription of medication to treat mental disorders. There is role for medicine, but parents need to be cautious.

  1. Obtain a comprehensive evaluation from a specialist in treating childhood disorders. Rely on your family physician as the best source of information about qualified professionals.
  2. Ask lots of questions. Make certain you leave the office with a good understanding of what the medicine will (and will not) do.  Ask how long it is anticipated that your child will be on the medication and be sensitive to any side effects. 
  3. Combine medication with therapy. Only half of the kids in the CDC study were seeing a mental health professional for ongoing therapy. In the treatment of adolescent depression, medication combined with Cognitive Behavior Therapy is the most effective treatment protocol. Encourage excellent communication between the physician ordering the medicine and the therapist treating your child.
  4. Be careful of your explanations to your child. I’ve had kids tell me that they were misbehaving on a certain day because “I forgot to take my meds.”  Don’t let your child avoid responsibility for his behavior.

Remember the Law of Moderation. Neither embrace medication as the solution for all problems, nor reject chemical treatment under all circumstances.

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