5 Signs Your Child Might Need Psychiatric Medication

For many parents, the mention of psychiatric medication for children generates many questions and uncertainty. When taken under the supervision of a qualified psychiatrist and in combination with other therapies (such as developmental day treatment clinic services), these medications can benefit your child.

Not all psychiatric medications are the same. There is not a magic formula to solve life’s problems. However, they may mitigate some of the risk associated with severe mental health conditions. Untreated mental illnesses can worsen over time and over time can even cause brain.

At Integrity, Inc. we focus on supporting individuals with Developmental Disabilities in their homes, schools, work, and communities. However, often times we see other behavioral health conditions in the individuals we serve. Just because an individual experience a Developmental Disability does not mean that they cannot also experience a behavioral health condition. Often times, these conditions are hard to accurately diagnose and sometimes require an extensive and multidisciplinary team approach to diagnosis and management.

Signs your child may require psychiatric medication

Not all children require psychiatric medication, but here are some signs that may indicate that it is time to discuss your options with a psychiatrist.


Depression can manifest in different ways but is indicated by feelings of hopelessness, sadness, guilt, or worthlessness. In children, you may also notice a dramatic change in mood or declining academic performance. Depression can also cause dramatic changes in eating and sleeping routines.

In some children, depression is a temporary, situational condition. Children experiencing divorce or problems with their friends at school may demonstrate some of the symptoms of depression. When it starts to affect daily life and the ability to function normally, however, it may be time to speak to a physician.

Individuals suffering from severe depression or bipolar disorder are at a high risk for suicide. Approximately 90% of suicides are connected to mental illness. While psychiatric medicines may show side effects, the risks associated with not medicating can be potentially fatal.

Common medications to treat depression include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

In addition to treating depression, antidepressants can also be used to treat anxiety, bedwetting, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.


It is normal to feel anxious about something—the first day of school, the prospect of monsters in the closet, and other small worries are all part of typical child and adolescent development.

Anxiety can amplify in some children and hinder their daily life. It can trigger panic attacks, affect school performance, physical health, and relationships with friends, siblings, and parents.

It is also important to monitor the frequency and severity of your child’s symptoms. Some children may experience generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) that can cause difficulties in doing regular activities like visiting a friend or cause anxiety over things like war and illness.

Another common form of anxiety is a separation anxiety disorder. Referring to the intense feelings that can stem from being separated from parents. Other children may experience social anxiety such as a fear of embarrassment in social settings like school.

Severe anxiety may be treated with SSRIs or a class of medications known as benzodiazepines.

Attention deficit/hyperactivity

Children seem to have boundless energy at times. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), however, is indicated by a significantly short attention span. This can also mean constant restlessness and an inability to stay focused on single tasks. This often leads to problems in school and is not due to a lack of understanding.

Other behaviors that may accompany attention deficit are fidgeting and constant movement (hyperactivity). Some children will also display signs of disruptive impulsive behavior.

Again, not all active children have ADHD, but when these behaviors start to disrupt daily life, psychiatric medications may ease these symptoms, allowing a child to have better focus.

Pediatricians, psychologists, and psychiatrists can diagnose ADHD. ADHD manifests differently in different people and symptoms can change as the child grows. Hyperactivity is common in younger children, while impulsivity and inattention can start to appear in adolescents.

There are stimulant and non-stimulant medications that can help children diagnosed with ADHD.


In adults and adolescents, signs of psychosis include hallucinations, paranoia, and irrational or unusual behavior. Younger children may show developmental issues before symptoms of psychosis appear.

These symptoms may indicate childhood-onset schizophrenia, severe depression, or other developmental disorders.

There are two families of medications to treat psychotic symptoms: first-generation antipsychotic medications and second-generation (or atypical) antipsychotic medications. A licensed professional would need to create an appropriate treatment plan.

Second-generation antipsychotic medications are often the first choice for treating children, but a child psychiatrist will be the one who determines this. The treatment plan for symptoms of psychosis will likely include a combination of medication and individual and family therapy.

Severe aggression

Children often argue with siblings or friends, but severe aggression may suggest an underlying issue. Aggression can mean assault, angry outbursts, and self-harm and may be a symptom of one of a number of disorders.

This symptom could possibly indicate autism, mood disorders, conduct disorder, ADHD, or a psychotic illness, but a licensed clinician will need to make an assessment. Mere aggression does not necessarily indicate a medical problem and must be considered within the broader spectrum of a child’s behavior.

Child aggression can also come from injury or trauma, and a doctor’s assessment will help determine the underlying cause of the aggression.

Regardless of the symptoms, a child and adolescent psychiatrist should conduct a physical exam, psychological tests, and laboratory tests as part of the initial assessment. Because each child responds differently to medication and every condition is different, it’s important to maintain a close relationship with the prescribing psychiatrist.


Integrity offers disability services for children and adults in Little Rock and the surrounding areas. In addition, Integrity helps develop transition planning for youth with disabilities in Little Rock. Contact us at (501) 406-0442 for more information about our community services and how we can help your child.

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