Antipsychotics and Mood Stabilizers for Children and Adolescents

Antipsychotics and Mood Stabilizers for Children and Adolescents are used to stabilize mood, reduce aggression, and improve impulsive control problems. Both can be used for bipolar disorder. Antipsychotics can be used to treat schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Specific antipsychotics are used to treat individuals with autism that demonstrate aggressive outbursts and to treat tics.  It is important to note that I am a mental health therapist and not a doctor. This information is provided to you as an overview of how medications are an effective tool in treating mental health with children and teens with mental illness.


  • Used to treat schizophrenia spectrum disorders
  • Specific antipsychotics are used to treat autistic individuals whom display aggressive outbursts
  • Used to treat tics
  • Haloperidol (Haldol) used less frequently due to risk of serious and potentially irreversible movement disorder called Tardive Dyskinesia (TD).
  • Risperidone (Risperdal) and Olanzapine (Zyprexa) more commonly used
  • Antipsychotics can lead to weight gain, increased blood sugar, lipids and cholesterol
  • Antipsychotics may result in muscle stiffness and feelings of restlessness
  • Children may be more sensitive to side effects compared to adults.

Mood Stabilizers

  • Used to treat bipolar disorder
  • Most commonly used:
    • Lithium
    • Divalproex Sodium (Depakote)
    • Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
  • Important to follow up with prescribing doctor regularly to monitor any side effects
  • Require regular blood tests to monitor levels for safety and effectiveness

Special Considerations for Children

Symptoms of mental health may be expressed differently in children than in teens or adults. For example: A child may show irritability rather than depressed mood or major depression. It is important to consider the child’s developmental stage to recognize if symptoms are of concern or appropriate.

  • Children metabolize medications faster than adults due to greater functioning of their livers, kidneys and gastrointestinal tracks resulting in lower drug concentrations in their bodies.
  • Medications may need to be adjusted or changed more frequently due to growth and development.
  • Side effects of medications differ to adults.
  • Most psychiatric medications have not undergone rigorous testing for FDA approval due to ethical concerns.

Questions to ask about Medications

It is highly recommended to advocate for your child when seeking psychiatric medications as a tool in aiding mental health issues. Below is an important list of questions to ask:

  • What is the name of the medication and the generic names?
  • Is the effectiveness of generic medication the same as name brand medications?
  • What is the difference between generic medication and brand name medication?
  • What is the medication used for?
  • How long will it take before we begin to see improvement?
  • Is the medication addictive?
  • When does the medication need to be taken and should it be taken with food?
  • What are the side effects I should be aware of?
  • What should we do if we experience side effects?
  • How long will my child need to take the medication?
  • If we choose to stop taking medication, do we wean off or stop completely?
  • Are there long term effects of taking the medication?

Some state laws may require your adolescents (16 and older) to consent to medication management. If your teen refuses, it is important for your prescribing physician and therapist to educate and discuss their willingness to try proposed medication.