By Jean Gauvin PhD, MD
1. What is the rate of mental disorders in children and teenagers?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 50% of children and adolescents meet criteria for a mental disorder in the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM) by age 18. That means that up to half of children and adolescents are struggling significantly with emotional issues to the point that they are suffering and have impaired functioning. Medication is often used to help relieve the suffering caused by mental illnesses and disorders by targeting chemical imbalances in the brain.
2. How do you determine whether to prescribe medication?
Several factors are taken into consideration when determining whether a dose of medication is appropriate. These include but are not limited to a patient’s symptoms, his or her age, sometimes his or her gender, possible interactions with other medications that he or she is also taking, the duration of treatment, as well as potential side effects. This is especially important since some psychiatric medications can have more severe long–term side effects. For example, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers can cause obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. These side effects, in turn, can lead to blockages in the arteries that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
3. Are there any child-specific considerations that factor into the decision to prescribe a medication?
Whether it comes to treatment for an adult or a child, the prescribing of medication generally occurs when the benefits outweigh the risks. However, in children, there is an added subtle risk that may be difficult to accurately assess: the risk on the developing brain. Though all of our medications are tested and proven to be generally safe, we are never exactly sure what subtle effects they may have on the developing brain of a child. There is not a reliable way to determine exactly what kinds of subtle effects they may have over, let's say, twenty years on factors such as personality or cognitive development. That is why I adhere to a conservative approach in the treatment of all patients, but especially when it comes to the treatment of children.