Children, the elderly, and pregnant and nursing women have special concerns and needs when taking psychotherapeutic medications. Some effects of medications on the growing body, the aging body, and the childbearing body are known, but much remains to be learned.
Below are a few special points to bear in mind:
Children — Studies consistently show that about 15 percent of the U.S. population below age 18, or more than 9 million children, suffer from a psychiatric disorder that compromises their ability to function. It is easy to overlook the seriousness of childhood mental disorders.
In children, these disorders may present symptoms that are different or less clearcut than the same disorders in adults. Younger children, especially, may not talk about what’s bothering them, but this is sometimes a problem with older children as well. For this reason, having a doctor, other mental health professional, or psychiatric team examine the child is especially important.
There is an array of treatments that can help these children. These include medications and psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, treatment of impaired social skills, parental and family therapy, and group therapy. The therapy used for an individual child is based on the child’s diagnosis and individual needs.
When the decision is reached that a child should take medication, active monitoring by all caretakers (parents, teachers, others who have charge of the child) is essential. Children should be watched and questioned for side effects. Many children, especially younger ones, do not volunteer information. They also should be monitored to see that they are actually taking the medication and taking the proper dosage.
Stimulants are one type of medication. Three stimulants — methylphenidate (Ritalin); dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine); and pemoline (Cylert) are more commonly prescribed for children than adults. They are successfully used in the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
ADHD is a disorder usually diagnosed in early childhood in which the child exhibits such symptoms as short attention span, excessive activity, and impulsivity. A child with ADHD should take a stimulant medication only on the advice and under the careful supervision of a physician.