Medicating Mental Illness in Children


When I had a flare-up in my bipolar disorder and became hypomanic bordering psychotic in 2008, I needed to be institutionalized for a week.

When I had a flare-up in my bipolar disorder and became hypomanic bordering psychotic in 2008, I needed to be institutionalized for a week.

Don’t ask me about details of the stay, because for as long as I was there, I remember very little of it. I was either running hotter than a supernova, or the newly prescribed medications were kicking in and I would fall asleep spontaneously and drift away into oblivion for a few hours.

But there is one thing I will never forget.

When my unit went to eat in the cafeteria, another unit or 2 would already be there. When I saw a table full of 6-year old kids about my son’s age at the time, my heart sank.

To this day, it saddens me to think about it. It begs the question of where we as a society went wrong to have these children wind up in mental facilities in the first place.

Some children have less-than-savory childhoods, while others kids are born with a psychiatric affliction. For both instances, I question the methods of medical intervention on occasion.

I have a son with high-functioning autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It has taken cueing, redirection, educational provisions, follow-ups with a developmental psych pediatrician, and sometimes tears of frustration to get him on an academic track for his freshman year of high school.

The one thing it did not take was a molecule of a psychoactive medication. It has taken every fiber of my parenting skills, but my boy is turning into a productive member of society.

If we did go the medication route, he would no doubt be placed on an amphetamine, a mood stabilizer, and an antipsychotic. I can't help but feel that a part of his personality would fade away from this medication regimen, and that is not what I want for him.

Based on his immediate family history (me), my son may very well wind up on some medication someday. I started in my mid-thirties. Hopefully, he goes farther than that.

I realize there are cases where these medications actually restore a child's personality, and they are totally warranted. But my question is, did you try everything else first?

Supervised play dates with similar children, animal therapy, and counselors are all available for troubled children these days. In Pennsylvania, Medicaid covers services for psychologically troubled or autistic children regardless of income level, so money is not an issue.

But time is an issue. We live in a busy society that runs at a stress-driven pace, and it is rubbing off on our kids.

These kids need more of our time and less of our pharmaceuticals. After all, the best recipes are slow cooked.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, is the author of Fatman in Recovery: Tales from the Brink of Obesity.

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