To Medicate or Not to Medicate Your Child for Mental Illness?

March 18, 2014 Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Choosing to medicate or not to medicate your special needs child can be a difficult one. As a therapist, I decided to medicate my child as a last resort.

The decision to medicate your child for a mental illness is often an agonizing one. Many parents that I work with struggle to find the balance between dealing with their child's behaviors themselves and letting someone help them. Medicating a child is not the easiest decision to make for some parents while for others it is the easiest thing to do.

As a parent who does choose to medicate my child, I have to say that medication in and of itself, does not resolve behavior issues. Yes, medication does help, but I believe it to be a last resort option. Below are descriptions of some of the parents I've worked with. So would you choose to medicate or not to medicate your child for a mental illness?

Parents On the Fence About Medicating Their Child

Most parents I meet are those who are stuck in the middle. They are neither for or against medication for their special needs child. In my opinion, these are the easiest parents to deal with. Along with the psychiatrist, I provide information about how medication along with therapy can help. These parents tend to be a little worried about what medication can do, but they also think about how their child's emotional and behavioral symptoms can be.

Parents Who Think Medicating Their Child Is the Only Solution

Other parents I've come across are those who are pro-medication, though, almost to the extreme. For them, medication is not just a solution to their child's problems, but it is the solution.

For some parents, it is difficult to invest in long-lasting changes at home for the benefit of their special needs children. I often find myself educating these parents on behavior techniques and coping skills to use to manage emotional and behavioral symptoms. Part of my work as a therapist is to educate parents on how medication, while helpful, isn't a cure but only one part of treatment. These parents struggle with seeing themselves as part of the solution, if not the solution.

Pro-medication parents are not the most challenging ones. There is one more type of parent dealing with the choice to medicate or not to medicate their mentally ill child.

Anti-Medication Parents

These parents are some of the most challenging ones. In my experience, they are rare. For them, the choice to medicate or not is very simple - they simply refuse medication. Some parents feel that medication will hurt rather than help.

I went through it with Bob. Even being a professional in the field, I struggled with the choice to medicate and saw it as a last resort.

I tried everything - punishments, rewards, behavior charts, etc. to change Bob's symptoms for the better. But, nothing helped. ADHD, depending on severity, doesn't always respond to changes at home or at school. For me, the choice to medicate was about me learning to understand that it was a good addition to the changes I made at home.

To Medicate or Not to Medicate Your Child for a Mental Illness

To medicate or not medicate your special needs child is one of the most difficult decisions to undertake. But, when you look at the big picture of how it would benefit your child, the decision can be easier. For me as a parent, I looked at how much Bob had suffered already and would continue to suffer if I didn't make that choice.

Parents, how did you choose to medicate or not to medicate?

You can also connect with Heiddi Zalamar on Google+ and Twitter.

photo credit: massdistraction via photopin cc

APA Reference
Zalamar, H. (2014, March 18). To Medicate or Not to Medicate Your Child for Mental Illness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Ian Knabel
March, 22 2014 at 6:01 pm

This is such an emotive subject. I don't know anyone who wants to medicate their child but sometimes it is simply the only option.
We resisted medicating our ADHD son but in the end we simply could not sit back and watch him struggle all day every day.
I also believe that medication is not a magic bullet. There is no substitute for rules and discipline to create structure and stability.
It's a tough one and every case needs to be evaluated on its merits
Good luck everyone

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 24 2014 at 6:24 pm

Hi Ian,
It sure is a tough one, isn't it? As I mentioned, I tried so many things before even thinking of medication. I did everything I could to avoid the idea until I saw how much Bob suffered. Not only academically, but socially, mentally and emotionally. When I saw all of that, there was no denying that he needed medication. Even today, nearly three years after starting medication, Bob still has issues with classmates who haven't forgotten the kid he was before medication. While I do believe in medication, I agree with you that rules, discipline, structure and stability are all needed to have a well-balanced child. Thank you for visiting and please come again soon. :)

Chrisa Hickey
March, 20 2014 at 11:17 am

For parents of children with severe mental illness, there may not be a choice whether or not to medicate. We resisted as long as we could, but when Tim tried to commit suicide the second time at age 13, we relented. I don't know any parent who wants to medicate their child. But for a segment of us, we don't really have a choice. It's meds or our children's lives.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 24 2014 at 6:20 pm

Hi Chrisa,
Thank you so much for visiting and sharing. (I follow your blog.) I agree that for some, there is no other option than to medicate. I see it everyday at work with some of my own clients. It is a struggle for parents though who don't believe in medication and are stuck in that struggle. Thanks for stopping by. Please do come again soon. :)

March, 20 2014 at 7:40 am

We tried everything we possibly could but it came down to a very simple reality: We wanted our child healthy, safe and alive. It wasn't about what I wanted or my ideals, it was about what my child needed to achieve the best health possible, and that includes medication.
This article way over simplifies the whole decision making process. I also feel that no one can truly say how they would handle this issue unless they faced it personally (You asked "would you choose to medicate a mentally ill child" ...many will have opinions, but without experience they hold limited value.)
One of my children needs many medications every day to manage her physical health conditions. It is not what I WANT, all I want is to make the appropriate choices to keep her body working as well as possible. It's no different for my child with mental health needs.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 24 2014 at 6:18 pm

Hello SnapIntime,
I'm sorry that you felt this over-simplified things. It wasn't my intention. The purpose was to start a conversation. I can see reading back my article that I failed to share the agony I went through acknowledging Bob's ADHD and even less the need for medication. I didn't want anything to be wrong with Bob, you see. I wanted him to be okay. And that struggle is what made things more challenging in the long run. In the end I realized that Bob needed medication to function to his potential and that I needed to let go of my worries about the future to focus on the present. I eventually got to the place which you pointed out so well in your comment - I wanted my child healthy, safe and alive. Thanks for visiting and please come again soon.

Jenny Kate Lokken
March, 20 2014 at 6:38 am

There was no choice. Had I not medicated my son, he would have seriously hurt himself or someone else.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 24 2014 at 6:15 pm

Hi Jenny,
Thank you for sharing your story. Unfortunately, sometimes there isn't a choice to medicate. My heart goes out to you. Please come visit again soon.

March, 20 2014 at 4:35 am

What helped was to look at medication as something we would TRY, rather than as a permanent, all-or-nothing decision. It's not as if you can't stop if it turns out to be the wrong choice.
I once had a conversation with the receptionist at our pediatrician's office, who confided that her son has ADHD, but she was afraid that if she gave him medication he'd be labelled at school. As gently as I could I replied, "Do you really think there's anyone at school who doesn't know he has ADHD?" She'd never thought of it that way.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 24 2014 at 6:14 pm

Hi Julia,
Thank you for sharing your perspective. I agree that looking at medication as something to try rather as permanent is a great way to look at it. I struggled so much with even acknowledging there was a problem. I also loved your response to the receptionist. It isn't as if others can't see that there is an issue. There's no hiding that. Please come again soon! :)

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