On this blog and in my new book, Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up, I explore young people’s experiences with medication. And oftentimes, by exposing their ambivalence, even their resentment, toward their treatment from an early age, I end up implicitly questioning the value of early intervention for mental illness.
So in honor of the American Psychological Association’s Mental Health Month Blog Party Day, I want to address the question of whether I think early intervention is worth it.
If some particularly controlling parents knew psychiatric medications were likely to have certain side effects, might they purposely inflict such treatment on their children as a way of controlling some of their offspring’s more unruly tendencies? Like, say, their kids’ rampant youthful sexuality?
That was the dystopian scenario some readers posed in response to my last blog post about psychiatric medications and sexual side effects.
I have to admit, it struck me as perhaps a little far-fetched that parents would put their children on medications solely for the side effects.
But, still, I wondered: If given a choice between two similar drugs, one with such side effects and one without, might a nervous parent not gravitate toward the medication that would quell their fears about burgeoning teenage sexuality?
Pediatrician and author Claudia Gold recently published a column about my book, Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up, over at The Boston Globe in which she highlighted an issue I’ve been meaning to address here for some time: Young people and medications’ sexual side effects.
The drugs most famous for interfering in the sexual realm are the SSRI antidepressants, like Prozac and Zoloft, which can cause loss of libido and problems with sexual arousal and orgasm. But mood stabilizers, such as Tegretol and Depakote, which are commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, also cause sexual side effects for many people
Both classes of drugs have been increasingly used in young people over the past couple of decades. But if these young people experience sexual side effects from the medications, what are the effects on their psychosexual development? Should we be worried?
I’m going to continue to do that, because there are many more topics I want to discuss (please feel free, as always, to make suggestions in the comments section if there are particular subjects you’d like me to write about).
However, if you’d like to read an account of what got me interested in this subject in the first place, you might want to check out the excerpt from my new book, Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up, which is over at Salon.com.
A little while back, I asked readers to share their experiences with medication. CJ, who first took medication at age 12 and is now 21, was kind enough to write in. At 12, CJ had self-harmed and was suicidal, which was the initial impetus for drug treatment.
Some medications have helped with those tendencies, some only exacerbated them – a controversial topic I’ve addressed in previous posts.
Eight years later, mood swings and sleep continue to be problematic, and antidepressant and antipsychotic medications that help with these issues are ones CJ considers to work. Forgetting the drugs for even a day has alarming results, and CJ sees medication as necessary for living a “normal” life.
Despite reservations about lifelong medication treatment, CJ fears that doctors will think the medications have cured the disorders and stop drug therapy, triggering a frightening breakdown. Another lingering worry – and one I found particularly poignant – concerns meeting someone and falling in love, only to have the person leave upon finding out about CJ’s diagnoses and medications. Even with a team of doctors, therapists and other mental health professionals and a cocktail of medications, this young person sees a long road ahead to recovery and many obstacles ahead.
If you would like to share any aspect of your experience taking medication from a young age, please feel free to email me at kaitlin.b.barnett [@] gmail.com. And now, in CJ’s words:
This reader’s story presents an interesting perspective, because he took antidepressants 30 years ago, before many of the current psychotropics were on the market, before psychiatric drugs were as commonly prescribed as they are now and, especially, before they were prescribed as often to children and teens.
It’s also interesting because he was hospitalized fairly soon after his symptoms showed up. He’s agreed to take questions in the comments section.
Again, I invite readers to share any aspect of their experience taking medication by emailing me at kaitlin.b.barnett [at] gmail.com. You don’t have to respond to my prompts – you can discuss any aspects of taking medication as it pertains to growing up, childhood, adolescence, forming an identity, etc.
1) How did you start taking medication in the first place? At the time, did you think you needed medication?
At age 17, I woke up one morning with my face wet, and my pillow soaked. I was very confused, but focused on getting ready for school, and didn’t give it any thought. Into the bathroom, get ready, and tears start coursing down my face. I wasn’t thinking anything upsetting, wasn’t feeling upset. I realized I had cried in my sleep….apparently a lot, based on how wet my pillow was.