1 out of 5 children battle some form of a mental health disorder. This includes depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, behavior problems, and more. Despite that fact, people are still unsure about mental health medications. As a parent it is just as important for you to support their mental health as it is to support their physical health.
How Do You Know?
You may be faced with the question, “Does my child need medication for their mental health?” If your child is worried, sad, angry, or overwhelmed, encourage them to talk to a trusted adult. If they are struggling with things like regulating emotions, controlling anger, or focusing it may be a good idea to discuss it with a medical professional. This is especially true if it is impacting their daily life.
It is important to know that not all mental health medications are the same. There is not a magic formula to solve all the problems in life. However, when necessary, medications can help to lessen some of the risks associated with severe mental health conditions. Untreated mental illnesses can worsen over time, and in some cases it can create negative changes in the brain.
What About The Side Effects?
It is not uncommon for people to be fearful of potential side effects, especially with kids. Take into account the effects of not treating your child’s mental health, too. It can impact your child’s development and ability to maintain relationships with family members, friends, and peers.
People often ask, “Will medication change or alter my child’s brain?” Possibly, but it is not necessarily something to fear. Often, when we think of changes in the brain we tend to think of something bad — like brain damage or stunting of development. On the flip side, untreated mental illness can harm brain development more negatively than a medication might. We know that early medication treatment, when necessary, can help prevent the mental illness from getting worse.
A good rule of thumb when your child starts a new medication is to monitor them closely for changes. You should encourage your child to tell a trusted adult if they feel “different” after starting on a medication. Most mild side effects dissipate after a few days or within the first few weeks of starting the medication. However, it is important to discuss any side effect with the prescriber.
Finding The Right Fit
A psychiatric mental nurse practitioner‘s first goal is to determine if a child needs medication. If so, they will start by using the fewest medications at the lowest possible doses. Remember, we will not always know exactly which medication will work best for your child right off the bat. Some medications that work well for other children may not work well for your child. Your child may need to try several different mental health medications before the prescriber finds the right one for them. It is also important to remember that some medications will work immediately but others may take a few weeks before you can expect to see any improvements.
A medication should not change your child’s personality. If you or your child do not feel like a medication is the right fit, it is important to discuss other options. It is also important to have regular appointments with your child’s provider to monitor and assess how they are doing.
As their caregiver — no matter your child’s age — it is your responsibility to give and monitor medications. Having a routine in place and setting a reminder on your phone or device can help.
Psychiatric medications should never substitute your child from learning self-regulation skills or developing coping strategies to deal with stressful situations. If your child has begun mental health medication, it is just as important to continue or add therapy for the best outcome. It is also important that medications will help manage symptoms, but will not “cure” behavioral or emotional disorders like an antibiotic can cure strep throat.
It is also very important that we don’t stop medications suddenly. If your child is feeling better or seems completely well, talk with your prescriber before making any changes. Many medications must be tapered, or slowly decreased, before they can be stopped completely. This is so that your child does not have negative side effects.
What Should You Do If You Believe Your Child Needs Medication?
Your child is unique and amazing! There is no “one size fits all” approach for mental health medication. If you believe your child may benefit from mental health medication, the first step is to pick up the phone. You can reach our team at 1-888-336-9661 to schedule your child’s first appointment. Remember, this does not automatically mean that your child will be placed on medication. Your child’s provider will work with your family and your child’s care team to create their personal treatment plan.