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The Dangers of Overmedicating Children
It's Time to Rethink Our Approach
The number of children prescribed medication in the United States has steadily increased for years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 20% of children in the United States are taking some form of medication for a mental health disorder.
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While medication can be an effective treatment option for some children, I believe it’s become a blanket prescription used to mask parental failure and the child’s trauma. I’m not alone in this; many medical professionals, some I’ve spoken to personally, believe our current approach to prescribing medicine is doing more harm than good.
What’s the issue with overmedicating children?
As I stated, and what should be the most obvious, is that medication can be and is being used as a quick fix for behavioral and emotional issues in children rather than a focus on addressing the underlying causes of their problems. Medication alone is not enough to treat conditions like depression, “ADHD”, or anxiety disorders. There needs to be a comprehensive treatment plan, one that is customized to the child, and includes the assessment of the parents in therapy and behavioral interventions.
Popping pills won’t solve the problem; because the problem is not to be found in the child’s body. The problem is what was done to their mind.
Most children’s issues will be discovered in, or at least fueled by, unresolved conflict with their parent(s), and it is in addressing parental issues as much as the individual child’s that medication-free long-term success will be found.
However, many parents and doctors see medication as an easy solution without considering the potential risks involved.
Another issue and one of the biggest risks of overmedicating children is the potential for harmful side effects.
Many common mental health medications have a laundry list of potential side effects, ranging from mild to severe. For example, stimulant medications commonly used to treat ADHD have been linked to sleep problems, loss of appetite, and even heart problems. Think of how shit sleep, poor nutrition, and heart stress will impact a child’s performance; are we helping them by trying to “calm them down”, or are we looking to make our life easier at the expense of the child’s life experience?
Similarly, antidepressants can cause nausea, headaches, and suicidal thoughts in some children.
While side effects vary depending on the medication and individual child, it's important to remember that any medication comes with risks. But, we must not normalize the nature of “depressed teens”; it is not normal for a child to not want to be alive, find no pleasure in life, or feel like they don’t matter.
That’s not “teenage years”; that’s pain and a lack of parental connection and support.
Overmedicating children and the potential for long-term effects on their development.
Our brains are still developing well into our teenage years, and altering the balance of chemicals in the brain with medication can have unintended consequences. For example, studies have suggested that long-term use of antidepressants may be linked to changes in brain structure and function.
Additionally, overmedicating children can create a dependency on medication.
Giving medication as a quick solution to behavioral and emotional issues without other forms of treatment, can create a habit of “Can’t relax - pop pill / Can’t sleep - Pop Pill / tough day. - pop pill”. Because of your decisions as a parent, your child may come to rely on medication to regulate their emotions. This can lead to a situation where they never learn how to manage their emotions healthily, which can be detrimental to their long-term development.
With this knowledge at our fingertips, why do we not look at medicating a child as an extreme, regrettable, last-case option, after all other paths have been exhausted approach?
What is the solution to overmedicating children?
For starters, we need to shift our approach to treating mental health issues in children. Rather than jumping straight to medication, we should prioritize therapy and behavioral interventions to help children learn coping mechanisms and address the root causes of their difficulties. I’ve had 1,000+ discussions along with my fellow Peaceful Anti-Drugging Kids Father Anthony Migliorino where we have helped parents see where they could improve their connection, as opposed to turning to medication and it has worked.
Medication can still be useful in certain cases, but it should not be the first line of defense - or second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth…and even then.
I decided to go to Twitter to get some insights from others on this epidemic.
The responses were insightful and offered a variety of perspectives on how to solve this epidemic; here are some of the top responses:
This was the top response, and I agree that it hit one of the biggest (literally) issues in our society:
Yannick not only offers easy-to-apply actions one can take, but he is also the CoFounder of Hypefury, a Tweet scheduler I use frequently.
Another look at this is the insidious nature of wanting things to be easy and comfortable, too include parenting/teaching:
Lastly, we address the home directly:
(All responses were great, I’ll be sharing my follower’s input more often)
In addition to the Twitter-Squad input, we must promote more education and awareness about the potential medication risks for children. Parents should be informed about the risks and encouraged to weigh the potential benefits against the costs before deciding on a treatment plan. This involves a shift in thinking about mental health treatment from a quick fix to a long-term, holistic approach.
Doctors need to push against medication, not support the decision to head in that direction from the onset.
At the end of the day, by rethinking our approach to mental health treatment in children and prioritizing therapy and behavioral interventions, we can help children achieve long-term success and avoid the potential risks associated with medication.
It's time to focus on a home-based holistic approach that addresses the underlying causes of behavioral and emotional issues rather than simply trying to mask the symptoms with medication.
- Zachary Small
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