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Evaluating Medications for Children and Teens

By Jane Rekas, LCSW, Mental Health Specialist
We now know that Depression, Anxiety and ADHD are indeed affecting children in epidemic numbers. Up to 2.5 percent of children suffer from depression and 3 to 5 percent of all children have ADHD (as many as 2 million American children or at least one child in every classroom). Approximately 4 out of 100 teenagers get seriously depressed each year. Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse. Anxiety disorders also often co-occur with other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Successful treatment of depression, anxiety or ADHD requires a combination of behavioral and family therapy and proper medication. But you are probably well aware that there has been a backlash against medicating young children – particularly for ADHD with Ritalin.

Parents have every reason to be concerned about misdiagnosis and incorrect medication. However, according to child psychologist Patricia Dalton, while there have been many cases of children who have given medication when they did not need it, the larger concern is actually children with disorders who are not receiving the proper medication (or the proper dose).

The Surgeon General’s Report also indicates “fewer children… are being treated for ADHD than suffer from it.” So many more children are not receiving proper treatment including medication, due in part to parents’ fears.

What is most important is for you to advocate for your child with your physician or psychiatrist. Be sure to have an ongoing dialogue with them about the correct dosage for your child, the correct schedule for giving the medication, proper ongoing monitoring, any needed lab testing, and possible side effects. When you are confident that these questions are being answered, then you can be more comfortable with getting your child the medication they may very well need.

Note: All health and medication matters should ultimately be discussed with your pediatrician or a child psychiatrist. Also, most diagnoses of depression and ADHD do not occur before age 5, however, there are exceptions. A thorough examination to rule out other medical conditions and to confirm a diagnosis is also necessary.


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