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The Parent’s Guide to Psychiatric Medication for Teens

man and teen daughter talking to psychiatrist
By LifeStance Health on November 23, 2020

Watching your child struggle with a mental health issue is one of the most stressful things a parent can face. Chances are that this is not the teenage years you imagined for your child.
However, there is still plenty of hope.

Mental health conditions are treatable, and your teen can live a healthy, happy life. Part of this journey involves making a choice about psychiatric medication for teens. The guide below can help you make the decision that is right for your family. If you need more personalized guidance, schedule an appointment with one of our compassionate mental health care providers.

When Do Teens Need Mental Health Medication?

Psychiatric medication is just one of the many treatment options available for people with mental health conditions, including teenagers. Medication is typically used in addition to other types of care, including therapy and lifestyle changes. While some people can recover without medicine for mental health conditions, others need it to help balance the chemicals in their brains.

Psychiatric medication can help treat a variety of conditions in teens, including:

Teens can develop almost any mental health disorder that affects adults. However, these are some of the most common conditions among adolescents.

Discuss Options with a Mental Health Care Provider

If your teen is showing signs of a mental health condition, it’s important to talk to someone who specializes in mental health care for adolescents. While you may start by visiting your child’s primary care doctor, going to a specialist can help ensure you get the best possible care. At LifeStance Health, we work with primary care doctors as part of your team, which is proven to have the best outcomes for patients.

Finding the Right Provider

There are many types of mental health care providers who can help your teen. We recommend seeing both a psychology professional (such as a psychologist or a therapist), as well as a psychiatry professional (such as a psychiatrist or advanced nurse practitioner). Understanding the roles of each of these types of providers can help you make the best decision for your child. Ideally, the psychological and psychiatric care providers can work together to create a personalized care plan for your teen.

If you want to consider medication for your teen, you will need to talk to a psychiatrist or an advanced nurse practitioner. These professionals can assess your teen, help you understand the risks and benefits of medication, and prescribe medication if your family makes that decision.

A good psychiatric care provider will never push medication onto your family. Instead, it is their job to give you the insight and knowledge you need to make an informed decision.

What to Ask Your Teen’s Psychiatrist

Before any medical professional can prescribe a medication for a minor, they must get the legal guardian’s informed consent. This means that not only should the legal guardian approve the prescription, but they should do so with enough knowledge to make an informed decision. In other words, it’s the provider’s duty to answer your questions and give you all the relevant information before prescribing medication to your teen.

These appointments can be nerve-racking, which can make people forget what questions they wanted to ask. We strongly recommend taking a list of prepared questions with you to the appointment for your teen.

You may want to ask your teen’s psychiatrist:

  • What diagnosis does my child have?
  • What symptoms do you hope to treat with this medication?
  • Is this medication on-label or off-label for my child’s diagnosis?
  • If this medication works as intended, what will that look like for my child?
  • What side effects might this medication cause?
  • How common are these side effects?
  • What should I do if my teen has side effects?
  • Is there a generic version of this drug?
  • What other alternatives are there and how effective are they?

With answers to these questions and anything else that comes up, you will be able to make the best decision for your teen. Remember that a medical professional will not prescribe medication unless they believe the benefits of the medication outweigh the risks.

Help Your Teen Become Active in Their Care

While your teen is a minor now, that won’t last forever. You can prepare your teen now to make decisions about their mental health care later in life.

Help your teen become active in their mental health care by:

  • Considering their opinions on psychiatric medications
  • Allowing them to ask questions at their appointments
  • Telling them about their full mental health history, including any mental illness in the biological family
  • Keeping communication about mental health open and honest

When you and your teen are on the same page about mental health–or at least reading the same book–you can make decisions that work well for all of you. Then, when it’s time for your teen to manage their own health, they will have the tools they need.

Practice Safe Medication Management for Your Teen

Medication management is an essential part of any mental health care plan, including for teens. Modeling healthy medication management now shows teens how to do it going forward. Most importantly, medication management is important for your child’s health.

Safe medication management may include:

  • Attending all follow-up appointments with the prescribing provider
  • Using medication lock boxes for psychiatric medication
  • Giving your teen their medication as prescribed
  • Ensuring your teen’s school gives medication as prescribed if required
  • Tracking side effects and symptoms

Taking these steps can help the prescribing provider have all the necessary information. This leads to the best possible outcomes for your child.

Need help for your teen?
Our providers are here for you.