Two years ago when my then four year old daughter was quite sick and in the hospital we were getting ready to leave, without a diagnosis or any sort of real plan to help her, but with an offer for a prescription for Prozac from the psychiatrist ( one of a team of different doctors and specialists who had seen her over the week). My husband and I barely needed to discuss it before we gave our answer to the doctor. It was a resounding NO. I saw the look on his face and immediately knew he was going to launch into all the reasons it was ok to give our daughter an SSRI. As someone who considers herself somewhat of a mental heath advocate, I felt the need to stop him and explain our reason for not wanting to give this to our daughter at that time. And the rationale was clear to us. First we had no diagnosis. These doctors had no idea what was wrong with our little girl so I was pretty uncomfortable with them medicating for…well, for what exactly? Second, we ( my husband and I) did have a pretty good idea what condition our daughter had, even if the doctors didn’t agree quite yet (they later would), and the dose of SSRI the doctor wanted to give her was far too large for that condition and most likely would have made things worse instead of better. In the end we did get our daughter diagnosed (elsewhere) and she didn’t need to be on Prozac. But what I want you to understand is that if she had needed it, if we had a reasonable amount of confidence in the doctor prescribing them, if we thought for a moment they were actually going to help her we would have taken that prescription.
A couple of days later, just while we were in the very early stages of getting a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for our daughter my husband was speaking to his mother on the phone. When he was done that conversation he told me that she was glad we turned down the medication because “she see’s kids in her office on meds all the time and you can always tell which ones they are. They are out of it.” I was so angry. Angry that she said that. Angry that he told me she said that. Even now those words feel like a dagger in my heart. Because the fact was, at that point in time, we didn’t know with any sort of certainty that our daughter wouldn’t need that type of medication. And if she needed it. If that was the thing that was going to make our little girl healthy again, then make no mistake, that’s what we would do.
Last week there was a local story about a four year old boy that was given a prescription for Risperidone to help manage his ADHD symptoms. The reason this was a story is because the pharmacy made a rather large mistake, giving the boy a dose that was 10 times higher than it should have been. I made the mistake of reading the comments section. I don’t know why I did. I knew exactly what I was going to find. I suppose the reason I went there was to defend this mother because it was inevitable that the one thing most people were going to focus on is that a four year old was prescribed an antipsychotic medication. Because all of these people, virtually none of them with even a sniff of medical training, let alone a licence to practice, knew better than this mother and her son’s doctor.
I am here to tell you that making the decision to put your child on medication to help manage the symptoms of conditions like ADHD, tourettes, anxiety, PANDAS/PANS, etc is not one that ANY parent takes lightly. It is NOT a sign of lazy parenting. Of all the parents I know who’s children take medication (and I probably know more than the average person because I am in support groups), none of them, not a single one, is a lazy parent who gives their child medication because it’s easier. It’s not easier. SSRIs and other meds are usually not a magic bullet that just instantly makes everything all better. They are a tool. Often a useful tool, but not the only tool that parents have and use to help their children. If you are under the illusion that these “lazy” parents just give their child a magic bean and go about their day, you need to give your head a shake. Finding the right medication, the right dose, in combination with behavioural therapies, is not an easy task. And it doesn’t instantly make a child better and parenting easier. That’s just not how this works.
When I see people make comments like “No child that young should be on antipsychotic” medication” I want to calmly whisper in their ear “You clearly have never had a child that needs them.” Although, in the end, my daughter didn’t need Prozac, but many kids like her do. And until you have lived that experience you really do have no idea and you should check yourself before you offer your uneducated opinion. When my daughter was at her sickest it was heart breaking. My four year old could barely function. And that’s not an exaggeration. There was zero enjoyment in her life. It was like she was locked in her own little prison. I can’t imagine any parent wanting to let their child suffer like that. If your child has asthma would you think it was “lazy” to give them an inhaler so they could continue to breathe? If they had a gaping gash that needed stitches would you just let them slowly bleed to death? I doubt it. Because that would make you a lousy parent. In fact you might even have your child, if he lives, taken away from you for not providing them with the care they need. And that’s all we want. To give our children the best care we can.
Some people, including, children, need these medications. Do you know how hard it can be to come to the realization that you or your child has a mental illness? Even that first step can be incredibly difficult. It’s a very vulnerable position to be in. It also requires putting a lot of trust into other people to help you figure out what is best for you or your child. The stigma surrounding these conditions is HUGE. And the stigma attached to actually seeking help, whether that is therapy and/or medication is even bigger. The next time you are tempted to tell someone that they, or their child, should not be taking medication I want you to realize you that you may have just contributed to someone else, someone reading your ignorant comments, suffering in silence. Or worse. Because mental illness, left untreated, kills. Words are powerful. Try not to kill someone.