If you spend any time on the internet you are well aware that people have feelings about things. Big, emphatic, passionate feelings—about almost everything. It is the nature of people to see something someone else is doing or saying and to either agree or oppose it—even if it’s not their business or concern.
I am sure you can extrapolate the information you have about humanity as a whole and make an educated guess about how the discussion on medication is handled. Add children to the conversation about medication, especially psychotropic medication, and most conversations devolve into screaming matches on the internet.
Which, I get it. When I was in college taking one of my psych classes, I had to pick a research topic and write a 20-some-odd page paper on it. Because I was an insufferable know-it-all when it came to children (despite having never had one of my own) I had opinions. I was pretty sure most people were just doing it wrong if their kid had issues that couldn’t be solved with therapy and time. Please, don’t laugh. The physical cringing sensation I feel just writing that sentence is enough reminder that I was an obnoxious idiot at best some days. My paper was on psychotropic medication and why it was a bad idea for children.
I was as particularly smug as only an unknowing 20-something can be on a topic I had limited knowledge on. My conclusion was obviously that drugs are bad and shouldn’t be given to children because it alters their brain chemistry. Reader, please hold your laughter. It gets worse. I also concluded that the risks of psychotropic medications were so high that no one should take them.
I got an A on the very well-researched, yet somehow uninformed paper. I would mostly forget I had even written such a paper until life brought it hurdling back into the forefront of my mind with aggression. Several things happened at once. I became a mom of 3 children under the age of 10. I sunk into the worst depressive spiral I had ever had. And I had to take two of the children to a counselor who recommended trying medications.
Now, because of the aforementioned research, I still had big feelings about medication and developing brains. I also, to that point, had the pull-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps approach to depression. Except this time, my tried and true methods to make myself better failed. I couldn’t hide how terrible I was feeling. The worst thing was knowing there wasn’t one good reason to feel the way I did. So, I felt like a failure, weak, and somehow broken.
As my life catapulted forward, I eventually found myself in my doctor’s office sobbing about life being too much. She gently—but firmly—recommended an antidepressant. She is a person I trust deeply, so I decided to give it a try. Miracle of miracles: the first kind of medication I tried worked well. Months went by without getting the massively depressed days. As time went on, I was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and chronic depression. We added more medication to my regimen.
So, now I had the head knowledge that medication on developing brains can be terrible and medication and good counseling have literally saved my life. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
Because medication worked so well for me, I was willing to at least try something for the kids if they needed it. They didn’t like how they felt, so we discontinued it but kept up with counseling and some other therapies. They are mostly doing well now. However, if they start to struggle, I’m now not opposed to trying anything that can make my kids feel better.
Pros and Cons (as I see them)
- Can help correct certain chemical imbalances
- Can provide a child with the focus they need to succeed in life
- Are heavily monitored by physicians that know what they are doing
- Can be an important piece of the mental health puzzle
- Can cause an angry and unmanageable child calm enough to explain what is wrong so we can fix the problem
- Can permanently alter brain chemistry in children
- Can send a depressed teen into suicidal thoughts
- Social stigma
- Can cause problems worse before they get better
- Can cause a child feel like they are bad or wrong
I’m sure there are more pros and cons that I could add to the list. I guess my point is mostly that mediation isn’t a fix-all for your child’s problems. However, it can be a piece of the larger puzzle of care.
There are plenty of people with thoughts and feelings about this that are probably much more intelligent and knowledgeable than I am. Still, when it comes to my (adopted) children, there are so many unknowns from their past. There is evidence that many adults who are addicts have mental health problems they are trying to self-medicate against. I don’t think I want to gamble on my kids’ future by not even considering giving them something that can help them. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
Mental health is tricky. It isn’t as easy to measure the brain chemistry in a person as it is to check blood sugar, there is a stigma that mental illness is imaginary. The saying, “it’s all in your head” is both true and false in this situation. Yes, the issues lie in the brain, but no, these are not imagined issues. My brain doesn’t make enough serotonin. Some people’s pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. We both need medication to keep us alive. Now, all that said, sometimes the solution is not medication.
My hope is that instead of simply being polarized to one side or the other that people will weigh and consider the options and make informed choices. Just because a solution works for my child, it doesn’t mean it will for yours. I hope that you can find the solutions that you and your family need.
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.