The short answer:
When they need it.
The long answer:
It took me years of struggling with anxiety, depression, OCD, and ADHD to finally realize I needed help. I had no idea the way I was feeling wasn’t normal. Nor was it necessary. I was terrified to take medication to help me because all I had ever heard about medication was that people over-medicate themselves. They are just popping pills to avoid their problems. Life is hard, no one needs a “happy pill.” It’s the easy way out. If you’re down, all you need is _____________ (oils/vitamins/exercise/eating right/faith/serving others/prayer/to get over yourself/positive thinking/therapy/less religion/more religion/to be grateful/to choose to be happy).
I now know from talking to my doctor and being on medication for the past 13 years that it’s not a quick fix or a happy pill. It levels the playing field and clears the fog so you can think clearly and figure out how to pull yourself out of the abyss. I’m finally a believer in the safety and power and sometimes necessity of medication for mental illness. But when my kid started getting depressed, that was a whole other ballgame.
I tried to learn about whether or not it was safe to medicate kids with mental illnesses, but all I found was more of the same negative and paranoid information. I even watched a documentary about how kids on anti-depressants are more likely to commit suicide. SUICIDE! The thought had me reeling. I could never do anything I thought might lead my child down such a dark path.
Then I had a tiny little inkling of a thought. Maybe kids weren’t more likely to commit suicide BECAUSE they took medication, maybe they were more likely because they were already depressed and already predisposed to that possibility.
I finally decided to take my child to a psychiatrist. Not a therapist, but an actual medical doctor who could advise us on what to do about medication, therapy, etc.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
You see, one of my kids was so plagued by constant guilt and fear that they would take to rubbing their head on things until scabs appeared. This child was only six and already was involved in a form of self-harm. But since this child has been working with a psychiatrist, they have never once done anything like that ever again and years later is living a very happy and productive life.
Another child of mine spent and hour or so every day crying and stressing about doing simple homework that I knew they knew how to do. Come to find out that child has ADHD like I do (there’s evidence that it may run in families) and now that they take medication for it, they can finally sit through a math problem without dissolving into tears. For awhile I wasn’t sure if the medication was working for that child until we missed a dose. I asked why they were crying and that child said, “You didn’t give me my medicine! I can’t concentrate!”
If you aren’t sure whether or not your child needs medication, talk to your child’s doctor. It doesn’t hurt to explore the possibility under appropriate medical supervision. You can even ask your primary care doctor about it first. It may take some tweaking. Changing a medication here, changing a dose there, but it’s possible to find help. You’d rush your kid to the doctor for a broken arm, why not for a broken psyche? Just because it’s a problem in their brain doesn’t mean it’s “all in their head.”
So how do we know it’s not just the normal stress or bummed feeling that everybody gets from time to time? The good news is that that’s a great question to ask the doctor. And if you feel they are suffering mentally or emotionally enough that it’s interfering with them living their life, then it’s definitely a good idea to ask a doctor.
The bottom line:
Only you and a medical doctor can determine if medication is appropriate for your child. So if you wonder about it, and you think your child’s struggles are interfering with their life, ask their doctor. You can always opt out if it’s not working or causing additional problems.
It took me a long time to decide to ask one kid’s doctor about their mental illness, and it took even longer to talk to the other kid’s doctor. But I’m so glad I did. I have the peace of mind of knowing I did all I could to help them be the healthiest they can be. It’s still a daily struggle, but it’s much better than before, thanks to the medication.