Will Mental Health Medications Help Your Child?

What parents need to know about medication management

Medications can help to lessen some of the risks associated with severe mental health conditions.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By Dani Darbyshire, MSN, ARNP

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/caregiver it is just as important to take care of their mental health as it is their physical health.

How Do You Know?

As a parent/caregiver 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 clinician. This is especially true if it is impacting their daily functioning. Clinicians to ask can include a pediatrician, a family doctor, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, or a psychiatrist.  

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 the medication change or alter my child’s brain?” Research has shown that it can, however, when we think of changes in the brain we tend to think of something bad, like damage or stunting. Something to point out is that untreated mental illness can harm brain development more negatively than a medication might. Therefore, it has been indicated that early medication treatment, when necessary, can help prevent the illness from getting worse.

A good rule of thumb when your child starts a new medication is to monitor closely for changed from their baseline in a negative way. 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

My first goal as a psychiatric nurse practitioner is to determine if a child needs medication. If so, I want to use 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 your child. 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. As a parent/guardian it is important to have regular appointments with your child’s prescriber to monitor and assess how your child is doing.

Monitoring Medication

Additionally, as a caregiver – no matter the age of the child – 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 with compliance.  

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 psychotherapy 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.

Dani Darbyshire, MSN, ARNP
Dani Darbyshire, MSN, ARNP
Dani is board certified as a Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Her primary focus is treating mental health conditions in children, adolescents, and young adults. She provides assessment, diagnosis, and management of symptoms in a wide range of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavioral disorders, trauma, psychotic disorders, and bipolar disorder.
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Dani Darbyshire, MSN, ARNP
Dani Darbyshire, MSN, ARNP
Dani is board certified as a Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Her primary focus is treating mental health conditions in children, adolescents, and young adults. She provides assessment, diagnosis, and management of symptoms in a wide range of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavioral disorders, trauma, psychotic disorders, and bipolar disorder.
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