Adults tend to look back on childhood as a carefree time of playing with friends, going to school, and being taken care of. Compared with the concerns that accompany adulthood, being a kid is a piece of cake, right?
So it's shocking to learn that a recent study found that the rate of antipsychotic medications given to kids 2 to 5 years old doubled between 1999 and 2007. Antipsychotic drugs typically are used to treat schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder, and other severe mental disorders, yet in this study also were given to kids diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders (such as autism), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and disruptive behavior disorder.
While the number of younger kids affected still is very small, the growing trend alarms mental health experts. The study's authors, for instance, also report that fewer than half of the children in their study had received any mental health services, such as a mental health assessment or treatment from a psychotherapist or psychiatrist.
About 1 in 5 children in the United States has an emotional or behavioral condition, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). But these often are problems like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and depression, which can respond well to early treatment with gentle, kid-friendly techniques like talk therapy.
Early diagnosis and treatment are key. Parents who worry that their child might be suffering from a mental health condition should first speak with their pediatrician or primary care provider, who can assess the child and then refer parents to a mental health specialist, if needed.
A child should receive a full mental health assessment from a specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, before being put on any psychiatric medication, especially one as strong as an antipsychotic. In addition to taking a thorough medical history, the specialist will ask about the family situation and school environment, and if there is a family history of psychiatric problems.
If other options, such as talk therapy and less powerful medications, have been unsuccessful in treating a severe mental disorder, only then should mental health professionals turn to stronger pharmaceutical treatments.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: December 2010
|American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) AACAP offers up-to-date information on child and adolescent development and issues.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance The mission of this group is to educate patients, families, professionals, and the public about depressive and manic-depressive illnesses.|
|American Psychological Association (APA) The APA provides information and education about a variety of mental health issues for people of all ages.|
|Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation This organization offers information, resources, and a community center that includes online support groups.|
|Word! Depression It's normal to feel sad sometimes, but if you feel that way for a long time, and you never feel happy, it's called depression.|
|Anxiety Disorders Anxiety is a natural part of life, and most of us experience it from time to time. But for some people, anxiety can be extreme.|
|Understanding Depression Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the U.S. If you think your child is depressed, you'll want to learn more about what depression is, what causes it, and what you can do to help.|
|Talking About Your Feelings Just talking about your feelings can make you feel better.|
|Taking Your Child to a Therapist Kids, like adults, can often benefit from therapy – but there are many important things to consider as you look for the right therapist.|
|Posttraumatic Stress Disorder People who experience a traumatic event can be affected by posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dealing with PTSD can be challenging, but treatment and support are essential.|
|Finding Low-Cost Mental Health Care If you need mental health care but don't think you can afford it, you're not alone. Get tips on finding low-cost or free mental health care in this article for teens.|
|5 Ways to Fight Depression It's important to take action against depression - it doesn't just go away on its own. In addition to getting professional help, here are 5 ways to feel better.|
|Bipolar Disorder Bipolar disorders are one of several medical conditions called depressive disorders that affect the way a person's brain functions. Find out more about bipolar disorder.|
|Going to a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or Therapist What's it like to go to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist? Find out in this article for kids.|
|Bipolar Disorder Someone who has bipolar disorder goes back and forth between feeling full of energy and ideas to feeling very low. Read more about it in this article for kids.|
|Depression Depression is very common. For more information about depression and feeling better, check out this article.|
|Going to a Therapist Getting help with emotions or stress is the same as getting help with a medical problem like asthma or diabetes. This article explains how therapy works and how it can help with problems.|
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