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ADHD drugs

How Many ‘Medicated Kids’ Are There?

How many kids take medications for mental health problems in the U.S. these days?

It’s a simple question, and one I’ve been getting asked a lot lately as I’ve been interviewed about my new book, Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up, about coming of age on psychiatric drugs.

And I’ve been embarrassed to hem and haw and not to have a single, easy answer.

Because here’s the thing: There are a lot of piecemeal stats from a lot of different sources, but they vary wildly, and there’s no single, unassailable source.


Antidepressants

Youth, Sex and (Psych) Drugs

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?


Antidepressants

Sexual Side Effects & Young People: Should We Worry?

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?


ADHD drugs

The Effects of Growing Up Medicated

In this blog, I have been writing about different facets of "the experience of medication" in young people who take psychiatric drugs for a variety of conditions.

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.



Drug Side Effects

Meds And The Perils of Fractured Care

There are times when taking psychiatric drugs makes me feel much older than I am, something a lot of my medicated peers tell me they've also experienced.

These last few weeks, I've been feeling prematurely aged, because I've been having lots of interactions with doctors, trying to figure out which of my various meds - if any - might be contributing to a weird resurgence of my depression, coming at a time when, outside circumstances considered, I should be feeling pretty cheery.

If you think the usual talk therapy-medication management model of split care that characterizes much of psychological treatment these days is bad, well, get a load of this.



General

Appearing “Young & Healthy” But Needing Psych Services

Since there is not much to do, from a layman's perspective, except wait until June for the Supreme Court to hand down its decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), I thought I would share some thoughts on how it pertains to young people with chronic mental health problems - the ones who look healthy but actually have considerable healthcare needs.

This is a group that you can define variously depending on what you think constitutes "chronic mental health problems." I'm going to define it more broadly than traditional definitions of serious mental illness and simply include young adults who have mental health problems so troubling that they seek out long-term mental health services, whether it be medication or any sort of therapy.

I think it's important to highlight this group because Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (among many others) has argued that the individual mandate forcing everyone to buy insurance is unjust in part because young, healthy people have better things to do with their money besides spending it on health insurance.


Diagnoses

Seeing Everything Through the Prism of Medication

I just wrote a book arguing that taking psychiatric medication from a young age has a profound effect on people's lives and identities, far more profound than most - including those who take the medications in question - even realize.
But sometimes it's possible to go too far with this view, to see everything through the prism of mental illness and medication. It's can be unfair, even dangerous, to assume that just because someone has a history of psychiatric problems and medication use, that that's the cause of their present problems.

I was reminded of this myself over the weekend.



Antidepressants

Are Meds Part Of Who You Are Or Just “Better Living Through Chemistry”?

In my last post I blogged about the decision whether or not to disclose to a significant other that you are taking medication. For this post, I said I would write about when both members of a couple are taking meds - but when one is an old hand and one is a relative newbie.
To my knowledge, there are no studies explicitly looking at this topic, but I think it would certainly make for an interesting line of research to look at the differing effects on identity. If I were a researcher, the central question I'd ask would be: Do people who begin taking meds at younger age feel that the drugs are more integral to their sense of self than those who begin them when their identities are already fully formed?



Childhood

Should You Tell? Disclosing Meds To A Significant Other

A reader's story about taking meds has spurred me to address a topic I've been mulling about for some time now: the ways in which people do or don't discuss their medications with their significant others.
The reader, a 21-year-old who wanted to go only by "CJ" was plagued by several concerns about taking medication long-term. Among them was the possibility of "meeting someone" and then needing to disclose having a psychiatric diagnosis and a regimen of psychopharmaceuticals, without which, CJ, said "I'm a different person, a scary person."

I found it sad and poignant that this was among this young person's top concerns concerning medication. But for better or worse, taking psychiatric medication is a very private act, something we must decide whether or not to disclose to others.

The decision to do so or not to do so takes on outsize importance as young people navigate their first serious relationships.



Adherence

If I Don’t Take My Meds, I’m A “Completely Different Person, A Scary Person” – A Reader’s Experience

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: