Psychiatric Medications for Children and Adolescents

Psychiatric medications for children and adolescents has increased in the past twenty years. 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.

Mental Health Illness in Children and Teens

Children and adolescents often present with many of the same behavioral health disorders as adults, but their symptoms may differ.

“It is very common for parents, teachers and sometimes even therapists to mistake mental health issues with “just a phase.” If your child or teen is able to verbalize and ask for help, it is important not to ignore and seek a mental health professional.”

Evaluation and treatment for children and teens differs from adults. Information may be obtained from the individual, teachers, parents/guardians, natural supports, and professional supports to gain  insight from all perspectives. It is important to  understand that children can present with most of the same mental illnesses as adults. Certain conditions are more common in younger age groups as their brain is not fully developed and may lack the proper coping skills, communication techniques and problem solving skills.

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.