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Mental Illness Awareness Week: What I Wish I’d Known About Medication

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The United States Congress established National Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in 1990, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) facilitates MIAW the first week of October each year. This year’s theme, “What I Wish I Had Known,” focuses on the power of lived experience and addresses a different topic each day. Rather than publishing a newsletter this week, we share thoughts about each topic daily.

Today’s topic is twofold: Medication and the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding.

It can be hard as a parent to hear that your child might benefit from medication, but it may happen. Mental health challenges are common among children. “In 2019, 13.6% of U.S. children between the ages of 5 and 17 years had received mental health treatment in the past 12 months,” wrote the Center for Disease Control. “In total, 10.0% of children had received counseling or therapy from a mental health professional, and 8.4% had taken prescription medication for their mental health.”

It is natural to have a lot of different feelings about the suggestion of medication. It is also natural, as a parent, to share your thoughts and feelings with others. We understand that. We are parents too. But we urge you not to get advice about your child taking medication from anyone other than someone licensed to practice medicine. What works for one child may or may not work for another.

Remember: You know your child better than anyone. Your perspective matters and is valuable. Be open with your child’s medical provider about your questions. Find out about the risks and benefits of any medications the provider recommends. Let them know things that matter to you, your child and your family. Notice if you feel listened to and understood. If you don’t, it’s OK to share your concerns. It is also OK to choose a different provider.

We encourage you to share your medication decisions with your child’s medical care provider. Let them know if you don’t want the prescription(s). Let them know if your child takes other medications or uses any substances. Let them know how your child does on the medication. Tell them if you change your mind about giving the medication to your child. Abruptly stopping some medications can cause problems for your child.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is a helpful online resource for families. We appreciate that the Academy’s Bill of Rights for Children’s Mental Health Disorders and their Families begins with: “treatment must be family-driven and child-focused” and goes on to say, among other things:

  • “children should receive care in home and community-based settings as close to home as possible”
  • “parents and children are entitled to as much information as possible about the risks and benefits of all treatment options, including anticipated outcomes,” and
  • “children receiving medications for mental disorders should be monitored appropriately to optimize the benefit and reduce any risks or potential side effects which may be associated with such treatments.”

The Academy has several resources, including Facts for Families, helpful information sheets about different childhood issues and diagnoses and Resource Centers for various childhood disorders. The Academy also has Parents’ Medication Guides that it produced in collaboration with the American Psychiatric Association:

All children, whether or not they have mental health challenges, benefit from having a medical home. A medical home is a relationship with a medical care provider that makes the child and family feel valued and helps coordinate all of their care, including mental health care. Mental health care can be offered through medical homes, especially when primary care providers can consult with child psychiatrists and child psychologists.

In Mississippi, any pediatrician, family doctor or nurse practitioner can consult with a child psychiatrist or child psychologist for free through UMMC’s CHAMP Project. If your child’s medical provider does not know about the CHAMP Project, we encourage you to share this information with them. It may mean that if your child needs to be assessed for or prescribed medication for a mental health condition, their current doctor may be able to oversee that process.

Beyond families’ journeys with their children, there are more systemic issues related to mental health, medication and children. Children in foster care are prescribed higher rates of psychotropic drugs than other children. Black and brown children have less access to mental health care. Living in poverty increases mental health challenges but makes it harder to get care. Families as Allies is committed to working on systemic issues and supporting individual families.

We also welcome all families and their faith traditions on this National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding. We support you in the ways you want to integrate your faith into the mental health care your child receives. We offer thoughts to those of you who are Jewish as Yom Kippur approaches. We are thinking of you and wish you an easy fast.

[Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash]

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