4 Questions You Should Ask To Decide Whether or Not Your Child Should Continue Their Medications For a Mental Health Diagnosis

One of the most popular questions I get asked is whether or not a child client should be on, or continue, their medication for a mental health diagnosis.

When prescribed appropriately by a psychiatrist or pediatrician trained in children’s mental health, and taken as prescribed, medication can reduce – or eliminate – troubling symptoms, and improve the daily functioning of the tween or teen with a psychiatric disorder such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, etc.

As a psychologist, my license and educational background does not allow me to prescribe medication, so I always defer to the child’s psychiatrist or pediatrician for a final decision regarding medication, but I do recommend that parents closely monitor the side effects and effectiveness of the medications and report these observations to the prescribing MD.

In addition, there are several questions that parents should ask themselves when considering whether or not their child should continue their medications for a mental health diagnosis:

  1. Is your child experiencing any side effects to the medication? If so, are they causing impairment in any area of your child’s life (i.e. are they too tired to participate in previously-enjoyed activities, too tired to stay awake during class, or do they feel more anxious or depressed while on the medication?).
  2. Do you observe any positive or negative changes in your child’s behavior while on the medication?
  3. Does your child report feeling any different while on the medication? Do they feel different in a good way, or a bad way?
  4. Does your child’s teacher report any positive or negative changes in your child’s behavior at school?

Gaining the answers to the above questions will help you weigh the positives with the negatives regarding your child’s medication use. If the negatives seem to outweigh the positives, then a conversation with your child’s doctor might be needed. Sometimes, the prescribing physician can adjust the levels of the medications, or switch medications, which might decrease the side effects but increase the effectiveness of the medications. Be prepared that it might take a couple of “tries” with medication dosages before you find the right for your child. This is normal.

Another factor that you might want to consider before taking your child off their medications is that sometimes the short-term inconvenience of taking medications can help while your child learns behavioral coping skills during therapy. For example, if your child struggles with anxiety, the helpful effects of anxiety medications can help your child be in the right frame of mind to learn skills to manage and reduce their anxiety. Many kids are able to reduce or eliminate their medications once they begin successfully using coping skills to manage their mental health symptoms.

The topic of kids and medications is a serious one. Your child’s prescribing physician and their mental health professional are partners with you in assisting you with any decisions regarding their medication use. Never feel afraid about having a discussion with your child’s doctor about their medications, and report the answers to the questions above so that your child’s doctor has all of the necessary information.

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Dr. Becca Ballinger is a clinical psychologist practicing in Redlands, California. She specializes in therapy for teens, tweens, young adults, and families. Call (909) 326-2562 to schedule an appointment.


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