Children and Antipsychotics: Silver Linings and Stigma

winter tree

This morning, I came across an interesting article in Scientific AmericanShould Children Take Antipsychotic Drugs? Like other pieces I’ve read on this topic, it addressed the serious side effects children can experience from antipsychotics. But I appreciated that this article also included evidence that, for certain childhood mental illnesses–including bipolar disorder–these drugs DO work.

Less heartening were some of the ignorant and negative reader comments, including several with the tired old “let’s-blame-the-parents-for-their-kids’ problems” theme. Sigh. So, so sick of that one. I couldn’t resist responding to one commenter and thought I’d share (a slightly edited version of) what I wrote:

Please don’t assume  poor parenting is to blame every time a child is diagnosed with ADHD or another mental illness. As the mother of a child with bipolar disorder and ADHD, I believe this is the exception rather than the rule. I’ve done a good enough job of beating myself up for my kid’s problems–and second-guessing myself about how best to help her–without reinforcement from those who aren’t in my shoes.

Like most parents of a seriously troubled child, I tried many other things–including twice-a-week therapy for almost a year, school counseling and seeking multiple opinions from top psychiatrists and other doctors–before turning to an antipsychotic as a last resort. In my daughter’s case, even her anti-meds therapist agreed that she needed medication to get stable enough to benefit from therapy. There’s no denying that antipsychotics can have serious side effects. And they are not magic bullets. I’m constantly weighing the risks and benefits of my daughter’s medication and work closely with her doctor to monitor potential problems. But as the mounting evidence cited in this article indicates, antipsychotics do work for kids with some mental disorders. They have definitely helped my daughter.



  1. I think your response was kind and well-balanced. I try not to read readers’ comments. If we had a dime for every time someone pulled the “it’s not the kid, it’s the parent” routine….well, we’d all be rich. While you and I know we do what’s best for our girls, these little snide remarks people make just hurt. It’s easy to say, “Ignore them!” or “They don’t know what they are talking about” but frankly, when one is already feeling a bit rudderless navigating the medication route (and certainly when one is first starting the meds routine), these comments are just salt in an open wound.

    We just have to tell ourselves, we know better than they do….we only have our kids best interests at heart.

  2. Well said, Audrey! I usually try to avoid the readers’ comments too as they just get me revved up. But sometimes I can’t help myself!:)

    So sorry for the earlier typo on your name, Audrey!

  3. Oh Gosh, no worries (re. typo)…half the time I can’t even remember how I log onto comments LOL! Hope all is well with you all 🙂

  4. Sunday morning I awoke to a half naked, wild eyed little girl covered in mud with blood all over her dress and running down her arm speaking rapidly about frogs, salamanders and Harry Potter. Sunday morning I awoke to a house with signs that someone had been up all night-TV on, different movie playing on the tablet, all the lights on, evidence of a carbohydrate binge littered around the house, multiple costume changes in front of the hall mirror. Sunday morning I also came to terms with the fact that lithium just isn’t working-she screams, she rages, she cries and pleads for help and asks me to make her “a normal kid”. Today we started seroquel and klonopin, I watched her body and mind surrender to this new cocktail. Will this be the one ? The fix? I don’t know, I can’t let my brain even think that far ahead. All know is right now and right now she is finally sleeping and I can see my baby still in there and I just want to hold her.

    1. Oh wow,Cayo. I’m so sorry you and your poor little girl had to go through that. I’m glad the new combination is working. I remember last summer during a family reunion, my brother, who also has bipolar disorder, was telling me how Ativan really helped him when he was too manic or anxious to sleep and that Sadie should try it. At the time, I was thinking there’s no way in hell I’m giving my 11-year-old an addictive barbiturate. But guess what her psychiatrist recommended when she was spiraling out of control last fall and couldn’t sleep because her thoughts were racing and she was so anxious she was literally howling like a wild animal and screaming “just kill me now”? Yup. Ativan. And I gave it to her because I would have tried anything to end her agony and help her to get some sleep. She does not take it on a regular basis–only in emergencies and a very low dose. But as your comment illustrates so perfectly, when your kid is in crisis, you don’t always have a lot of great options to choose from–or the luxury of time– to help them stabilize.

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