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Medicating Children

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By Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D.

Have a problem? Pop a pill. Have Americans gone too far when it comes to medicating children?

Dr. Linda Helps - Jerry has signs of depression. At the age of 10, he is having a difficult time navigating his parent’s divorce and recent move to a new school. His mother went back to work and he is worried about the future. Jerry’s therapist feels he can help Jerry work through this time of difficult transition and get Jerry back on track. Jerry’s depression is related to the major changes in his life.

When the therapist called Jerry’s insurance to get authorization for 10 sessions, an all too familiar interchange began. The managed care representative told the therapist to send Jerry to a psychiatrist for evaluation for antidepressants. The therapist believes Jerry needs therapy, not drugs. The insurance company said they will not authorize therapy unless Jerry sees a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist’s report recommends Jerry start taking antidepressants.

Unless the therapist is willing to go along with the psychiatrist’s recommendation, authorization for therapy will be denied. The therapist is furious. Jerry is a child. The long-term effects of placing kids whose brains are still developing on antidepressants are still unknown. Why would Jerry be medicated when he can be treated without drug intervention?

The answer? Insurance companies tend to push quick, easy and inexpensive solutions on their consumers. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to fight with insurance companies to refrain from medicating kids. Unfortunately, Jerry’s story is not unique.

America is in love with biological solutions for problems. In 1999, nearly 2.8 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written for children and adolescents, a 52 percent increase since 1994. As parents, we fight hard to keep our children away from illegal drugs. But, insurance companies think nothing of medicating them with legal drugs. The message is, if you have problems, pop a pill.  

Medication should not be a replacement for therapy. According to researcher Candace Pert at Georgetown University and former neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, drugs can modify the structure of neurons in the developing brain. Because of this, we don’t know what long-term effects certain medications have on behavior, memory, mood, learning, and emotions.

An obvious conclusion is that medications should be cautiously prescribed to children and only used when absolutely necessary. Do not allow the pressure of an insurance company to dictate an unwanted option for your child. Fight back and demand that interventions that “do no harm” be tried first.

As a parent, you must be assertive and demand appropriate help. This may mean refusing to medicate your child. Despite ten years of research, there is no breakthrough that supports medicating depressed children. The question to ask then is why do it? Why take any unknown risks with our children? (These unnecessary medications can lead to addictions. Now big pharma loves to have people needing to take their medications for life because that is what makes them the most money. But once a child becomes addicted to a medication that is addictive, then you are faced with addiction treatments to try and get them free of them. Why start to begin with>)

Dr. Mintle – author, professor, Approved Supervisor and Clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy – is a speaker and media personality, as well as a licensed clinical social worker with over twenty years in psychotherapy practice.

For more articles by Dr. Linda Mintle, visit

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