Key Takeaways Key Takeaways
  • With almost half of adolescents experiencing mental health disorders at some point, recognizing the signs early and seeking intervention can significantly minimize the impact on their lives. Early treatment, including psychiatric medication, when necessary, can pave the way for improved well-being.

  • Engaging in open communication with mental health care providers, involving your teen in decision-making, and building a support network are crucial components of effective treatment.

  • By establishing a shared understanding of mental health, parents can equip their teens with the tools and knowledge necessary to manage their mental health independently in the future.

The Parent’s Guide to Psychiatric Medication for Teens

This content has been updated from the previous article 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.

An estimated 49.5 percent of adolescents has had a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. For young people who do have mental health disorders, early intervention and treatment can help lessen the impact on their lives.

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 choosing 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. Understanding when medication may be necessary involves careful consideration of the severity and persistence of mental health issues.

Conditions like depression, anxiety, and attention disorders can significantly impact a teen’s daily life, hindering academic performance, social relationships, and overall well-being. In such cases, psychiatric medication can play a vital role in addressing chemical imbalances in the brain, providing relief from symptoms, and fostering a stable foundation for therapeutic interventions.

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.

Questions 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

Engaging a teenager in mental health care, especially when considering medications, requires a delicate and collaborative approach. Open communication is paramount. Begin by fostering a safe and non-judgmental space for your teen to express their thoughts and emotions. Actively listen to their concerns, acknowledging the validity of their feelings and experiences.

Education is key; demystify the stigma around mental health and medications. Provide clear and age-appropriate information about the potential benefits and side effects of the proposed treatment. Encourage questions and involve your teen in discussions with mental health professionals, allowing them to voice their concerns directly.

Empower your teenager by involving them in decision-making. Offer choices when possible, allowing them a sense of control over their treatment plan. Collaborate with the mental health team to establish realistic expectations and goals, ensuring your teen feels heard and understood.

Building a support network is crucial. Encourage your teen to connect with peers who may have undergone similar experiences. Additionally, involve trusted adults, friends, or family members in the process, reinforcing a broader support system.

Consistency in communication is vital. Keep an ongoing dialogue about the progress, addressing any concerns promptly. Regular check-ins and shared decision-making help cultivate a sense of ownership in the treatment journey, fostering cooperation and a more positive mental health experience for your teenager.

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.

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.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.

Reviewed By

Ariel Mintz, MD
Ariel Mintz, MD

Dr. Ariel Mintz, dual certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in General Psychiatry as well as Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, attended medical school at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan. He trained in General Psychiatry at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota and completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic. He previously founded and worked at Kesher Psychiatry, an early adopter of telepsychiatry. He is also the founder of Refuat Hanefesh, a non-profit working to create a Jewish community that is more aware, respectful, and empathetic to people living with mental illness. He has won awards for academic achievement, research looking into factors affecting patient satisfaction, and service to the Jewish community.

He has lectured on numerous topics including ethics, childhood mental illness, antipsychotics, mood disorders, delusions, anxiety, bullying, teen dating violence, the relationship between income inequality and mental illness, coping mechanisms, and Alternative Medications. He has authored over 40 articles related to mental illness. Dr. Mintz’s specialty interests include Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Anxiety Disorders and Depressive Disorders. He works with children, adolescents and adults.