Is Medication Right for Teen Mental Health Conditions?

If your teen is struggling with anxiety, depression, ADHD, or any other mental health conditions, his or her doctor might suggest using medication to reduce symptoms. Many parents are hesitant to use medication for these types of conditions. Your child’s doctors know not only your teen’s specific condition, but also how he or she has responded to other types of treatment, so it’s best to consult with the mental health professionals in charge of your child’s case before making a decision. There are several considerations to keep in mind. Here are some of them.


What Have You Tried So Far?


In many cases, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can be used in place of medication for non-psychotic mental health conditions. If you have not tried any type of therapy and your teen is not dealing with a psychotic disorder, it’s likely that your child’s mental health professional will advise starting therapy before turning directly to medication. You might also feel more comfortable with this option, because CBT and other types of therapy have no side effects, which is something that cannot be said about drugs commonly used for anxiety and depression.


When it comes to ADHD, your doctor might recommend medication soon after diagnosis. Again, you can certainly try non-medication options. Teens who are only distracted and unfocused tend to have better results than those who are also hyperactive. In many cases, parents want to avoid medications for ADHD and might try various non-medication treatments like changing the diet, herbal supplements, or various types of behavioral management. It’s a good idea to talk to your teen’s mental health practitioner before trying various strategies.


What Does the Doctor Recommend?


Because antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and other medications used for mental health conditions can cause side effects, some of them severe, many doctors will not want to use them as a first line of defense. In some cases, however, your doctor might recommend them early in the treatment process. Your doctor knows your teen as an individual; they’ll know about any extenuating circumstances or particular situations that might make medication a better choice than CBT or other types of therapy alone.


If your doctor does recommend medication, it’s important to ask questions. Ask about the signs of adverse effects and what you should do if you detect them. Also, find out how you will know if the medication is working. It’s not uncommon for people to need to try different dosages and different types of medication for mental health conditions. Ask how often your teen will be evaluated for the need to change the medication regimen.


What Kind of an Improvement Can You Expect?


Another important consideration is to think about how much of an improvement you might expect to see with medication versus the improvement you might see with other types of therapy. For example, when it comes to depression, cognitive behavioral therapy might be just as effective as medication, particularly if the depression is not severe. If your teen has social anxiety, using CBT might be even more effective than medication. Depending on the type and severity of your teen’s condition, lifestyle changes such as adding exercise to his or her day or making time each day for relaxation techniques might be effective.


If your teen has a psychotic condition, however, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, then therapy is unlikely to be effective on its own. In these cases, medication is often necessary. Ask the doctor what type of improvement you are likely to see and how long it will take to see the improvement with a particular type of medication. Also, find out whether the medication will be used for a short period of time or for life.


What Does Your Teen Want to Do?


As a parent, it’s natural that you will want to handle all or most aspects of your teen’s health, but be aware that within a few short years, your teen will be an adult and will be making his or her own medical decisions. It’s important to involve your adolescent in the discussions about how his or her condition will be best treated. While you do have the ultimate decision-making power when it comes to whether your teen takes medication, it is your teen who will have to live with that decision.


Include your teen in most, if not all, of the conversations that you have with his or her medical providers. Also, be sure to give your teen the privacy to have time alone with each of the providers. This way, he or she can ask questions that they might feel uncomfortable asking in front of you. It can also help your teen to understand more fully what is going on and make him or her more compliant when it comes to following through with the treatment plan.


What Other Concerns Do You Have?


Making the decision to medicate your teen should not be taken lightly. It’s likely that you will have many concerns. Write down your questions and bring the list with you to your teen’s appointments, then write down the answers. This way, you won’t forget what you wanted to ask or what the answers were. Don’t be afraid to ask seemingly minor questions; if you notice your teen’s condition or medication affecting any part of his or her life, feel free to ask about it.


As a parent, you have had to make a lot of decisions for your child over the course of his or her lifetime. Although your teen is going to be gradually taking over responsibility for his or her own care, the decisions that you make and how you make them can affect how seriously your child takes their responsibility. Also, your attitude when it comes to medication for mental health conditions can affect how open your teen is to medication as he or she enters adulthood. Working with a mental health care provider who is familiar with adolescents is one way to help your child navigate this bridge between childhood and adulthood and make good decisions with your help.