The Effects of Treating Psychiatric Disorders in Children with Medicine
Children as young as toddlers and preschoolers are being prescribed medication for conditions like ADHD, ODD and bipolar disorder. For some parents, the drugs are a godsend. But experts worry that not enough is known about how these medicines affect developing brains and bodies when treating psychiatric disorders in children.
“Therapy Can Be More Expensive”
Once a toddler or preschooler is diagnosed with a mental disorder by a qualified expert, his parents face daunting decisions. Although nearly all doctors recommend that psychotherapy be tried before medications, some doctors are quicker than others to recommend drugs, and while the use of psychiatric medications has been rising, the use of non-pharmacological treatments has decreased. “Unfortunately, weekly therapy sessions take more time and work than filling a prescription and checking back in with a psychiatrist once a month,” says Dr. Gleason. “And the way insurance companies negotiate rates, therapy can also be more expensive for families than pills, at least in the short term.”
Some doctors and parents don't necessarily see this as a bad thing, and argue that there are times when medication can make all the difference. “Children like my son might be dead without it,” says Bridget Sediqzad, whose son, Maddox, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 3, when he was sleeping no more than a couple of hours at a time, throwing eight-hour-long tantrums, and biting other children at daycare. Maddox also experienced hallucinations that caused him to jump out of a low-story window, leading to a recent diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder (combining traits of bipolar and schizophrenia). At age 7, Maddox's problems are managed by five different psychiatric medications; today he's a loving big brother to a new baby at home and can accompany his mom to the store for 15 minutes or so without a meltdown. “For us, that's real progress,” says Sediqzad.
“While we have to weigh the possible side effects of medications, we also have to consider the cost of not treating certain kids,” says Louis Kraus, M.D., chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago. “If a child can't remain in a regular class or is excluded from ordinary social experiences, that's not ideal. If medicine is the best option for a child, for a family, it should be considered.”