Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Parenting

Font Size

Kids Drugs Mental Health

By
WebMD Feature

Kids, Drugs, and Mental Health Too many kids are getting antidepressants instead of behavioral therapy.           

Preschool kids are taking drugs for psychiatric disorders -- more than ever before. Toddlers are getting prescriptions for anxiety and hyperactivity, often without ever seeing a specialist.

Is it really anxiety, or just a child's shyness in a new situation? Is it really hyperactivity, or just a growth stage the child is going through?

A recent study points out that these medications have not been approved for young children and the potential for harmful effects on them is unknown.

In the study, researchers reviewed outpatient prescription records and found the No. 1 most prescribed psychotropic drug was Ritalin.

In fact, from 1991 to 1995, Ritalin prescriptions tripled among some groups of children 2 to 4 years old, reports researcher Julie Magno Zito, PhD, associate professor of pharmacy and medicine at the University of Maryland. Her report appeared in a February 2000 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

No. 2: Antidepressants, including Prozac and Zoloft. During the years that were studied, antidepressant prescriptions doubled among toddlers.

It all points to a growing crisis in mental health services, says an accompanying editorial.

"Behaviorally disturbed children are now increasingly subjected to quick and inexpensive [medication] fixes" rather than approaches that include pediatric, psychiatric, behavioral, and family care, according to Joseph T. Coyle, MD, chairman of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

A doctor trained in diagnosing emotional or behavioral conditions should assess any child who has been recommended for psychiatric medication, says Coyle.

A prescription, he says, should not always be the first option.

Too frequently, inexperienced parents "diagnose" problems in their young children -- when the kids are just being normal, says Oscar Bukstein, MD, associate professor of psychiatry in the Western Psychiatric Institute at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

It's true that preschoolers do have problems, he tells WebMD. "We have identified major depression in preschoolers. We know that ADHD does exist in little kids. Anxiety disorders are also very common."

However, many times the problem is related to lack of socialization -- or simply to a young child's developmental level, he says. "Kids who haven't been put in social situations before preschool will have difficulty at first. Also, the average preschooler is very often more hyper than the average school-age kid. An inexperienced parent can easily think their child has ADHD when in fact the preschooler simply hasn't been accustomed to social situations."

Very often, school staff has the best perspective on a child's behavior. "The staff knows what's normal and what's abnormal. They'll know if a child is 'way off the chart.' It's harder for parents to gauge that," Bukstein tells WebMD.

In too many situations, primary care physicians who don't have access to specialists will prescribe medications when they're not necessary. "A perfect analogy is prescribing antibiotics for viruses. It's a very similar situation," says Bukstein.

Today on WebMD

Girl holding up card with BMI written
Is your child at a healthy weight?
toddler climbing
What happens in your child’s second year.
 
father and son with laundry basket
Get your kids to help around the house.
boy frowning at brocolli
Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
 
mother and daughter talking
Tool
child brushing his teeth
Slideshow
 
Sipping hot tea
Slideshow
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Video
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
Article
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
 
tissue box
Quiz
Child with adhd
Slideshow