Your teen has been in counseling for a while now but not much has changed or improved. Your teen seems stuck. There is something in the way of making progress and you hate to see them struggling. You wonder, should I explore medication for my teen?
The Fear Sets In
I’ve seen it time and time again. When the discussion around medication comes up, there is a rush of anxiety and worry. Will my child become too dependent on meds? Are we taking the easy way out? Maybe they need to learn more coping skills first. What will the side effects be?
These worries are 100% valid. There is so much unknown in the world of psychotropic meds, especially for youth. You want to make things better and there is fear that meds might make things worse.
I need to make it clear that I not a doctor
My knowledge around specific medications is limited. I am not here to go into details about different prescriptions, rather the purpose of this article is to help guide you in making the decision on whether to consider medication as part of your teen’s treatment.
The points that I will make in this article come from my experience working with teens as a counselor for the past 7 years as well as my own perspective as someone who has struggled with anxiety.
The other purpose of this blog post is to hold your hand as you sift through the questions and concerns that you have. At the end of the day, the decision to start on medication is to be made by you and your teen. It’s a personal one and perhaps an emotional one.
I get that!
Clearing The Clutter
There often comes a time in my counseling work with teens when I start to talk to them and their parents about considering medication. I have a set of criteria that I look for before I make that recommendation.
I typically do not even discuss medication for teens until I have had several sessions with them and have the foundation of rapport built. One reason that parents bring their teens to me is that I do not make hasty evaluations of the need for meds.
Once I have been working with a teen for a while and they keep hitting the same road blocks over and over again, that is when I start to have the conversation about medication. When I have a teen consistently showing up for appointments, they are trying the different strategies we’ve talked about, and nothing seems to move the needle, this is when the medication conversation begins.
I believe that medication serves as a coping skill.
Sometimes it is THE coping skill that needs to be in place for the others to take effect.
The medication equation that I use is to determine if there is excess clutter keeping them from reaching their goals. When I say clutter, I mean the internal struggle to the point where they keep trying and trying but it seems there is some physical obstruction in their path. This clutter is exhausting them every time they try to clear it because it is just too much. I can usually see the exhaustion on their face at their attempts to clear it. Medication can often times make the boxes in the way a bit lighter and easier to move.
I think because we cannot see the clutter, it is hard to believe it is there.
I will speak some truth here: most of my medication knowledge is regarding antidepressants (i.e. zoloft, lexapro, prozac, etc.). Antidepressants are often prescribed to individuals who struggle with anxiety, not only depression.
I like most of you have had hesitations regarding medication for mental health.
“But your a mental health professional?”
I know you may be thinking that.
Even though I am a professional, I am also a human. Most counselors have their own history of mental health which is what draws us to this field.
My resistance to medication came from being diagnosed with ADHD at age 7 and trying many different medications that were bot a good fit. I also have my own trauma around the diagnosis that I have processed in my adult life.
A few years ago, I was really struggling with anxiety. I have always struggled with anxiety and have gone to my own counseling for it. I have thought about medication in the back of my mind but the judgment of “taking the easy way out” always stopped me.
A Change in Perspective
When I was really struggling with anxiety to the point I was losing sleep and every little thing made me spiral into a worry pit, a friend said something that changed everything.
In this conversation, I told my friend that I do all the things that should help with anxiety, exercise, meditation, eating well, counseling, and the list goes on.
My friend then said, “Cat, medication is just another coping skill.”
When she said that, it changed everything. I had never thought of it that way.
Do you mean to tell me that what I had seen as an easy way out this whole time could be the missing puzzle piece that would allow the other coping skills to work?
That is when I realized the medication equation. When you are exhausting yourself trying to cope with anxiety and nothing changes, medication can help those pieces fall into place.
Without medication, my efforts were like swimming against a riptide.
The Doctor's Visit
With that change in perspective, I decided to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. After all, meeting with the doctor did not mean I HAD to do anything. I could simply gather more information.
Long story short, after speaking with the psychiatrist, I decided to try a low dose of Zoloft, which is an anti-depressant.
What helped me make the decision was that the psychiatrist, who was a really cool female doctor that put me at ease, told me that it wouldn’t cause some drastic change to my personality and it was not an addictive medication.
I think the main concern we have about psychotropic meds is that they will suddenly transform us into someone else, and while some drugs have a more immediate and noticeable effect, an anti-depressant takes a while to settle in. Because of that, there is no instant gratification that would make one want to abuse it.
What Happened Next...
Honestly, nothing really happened…at first.
The first two weeks were a bit rough because my body had to adjust. I learned that serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a large role in regulating mood, is stored in the gut. Because of this, my stomach and appetite were pretty messed up for the first week or so.
All in all, once I got through those weeks, I still felt like my normal self. I did not notice a drastic change in my personality or mood. It was not until a few months later that I noticed a change.
The change was subtle, but I noticed my mind felt lighter. There was more room.
It felt like the boxes of clutter that lined my mind had been moved out of the center hallway to the sides.
I was able to walk around, look in the boxes I needed, and keep moving.
Yes, this is a metaphor so let me explain.
Before medication, I would obsess over every single interaction I had on a regular basis. I would ruminate on what I said, what the other person said, and how I would address it next time. I was living in a false reality because I could not change or predict anything. Words stopped sticking to me like glue. I could let things go and move forward. The coping skills that I had always used were finally making a difference because the clutter that blocked their path was cleared.
It Does Not Hurt To Try
I realize that my situation is not the same as your teens because I am an adult.
What applies to your teen is that there might be a hallway in their mind that is cluttered with boxes that are too heavy to move. These boxes are preventing progress from taking place and medication may be the coping skill that allows the others to work.
As a counselor, I do not recommend medication to teens willy-nilly
If I notice that a teen might be working harder not smarter to manage their mental health that is the equation that may equal medication.
The conversation I have with teens and their parents at this point is that it does not hurt to try. It does not hurt to set up an appointment to consult with a psychiatrist and ask all of the questions you have. It does not mean your teen has to take medication. It simply may be worth exploring.
The best part is if it does not go well, you can talk to your doctor about making adjustments to the regimen. You can also stop if it is not a good fit.
Taking Meds Responsibly
taking the plunge to take medication can be scary but there are many ways to be responsible and proactive with your medication. You get to have the power, not the medication!
Keep a Log
You can take control of the experience you have with your medication by keeping track of how it makes you feel on a daily basis. Write down how you feel emotionally and physically each day during those first few weeks. By monitoring your responses to the medication you will be more aware of changes that take place, both positive and negative ones.
I recommend keeping a log at least until the first follow-up appointment with your psychiatrist. Bring the log with you and review it with your doctor.
The more data you have, the better you can communicate your needs, and thus your doctor can help you more effectively.
You can keep a log on blank paper, in your phone notes, create a log yourself, or use a fun template from Pinterest.
Consistency is KEY!
The only way that medication can work properly is by taking it as prescribed. If you miss doses, forget to refill the prescription, or think “I feel better so I can skip tonight,” the medication will not work and you will experience unpleasant side effects.
Make taking your medication a regular part of your routine just like brushing your teeth. Keep the pill bottle by your toothbrush to help you remember. Other helpful tops include: setting a reminder in your phone, writing sticky notes, getting fun mirror markers to leave yourself a note in the bathroom. Whatever you can do to remember!
I once knew a teen who would “trick” herself into taking her medicine by putting the pill bottle in her school shoes so she couldn’t get dressed fully without taking it. That is the most creative strategy I have ever heard of!
Stop, Collaborate, and Sign an ROI
When your teen starts to take medication, it becomes an additional part of their mental health treatment. Medication works best in conjunction with counseling and both work even better when all providers work together.
Legally, your teen’s counselor and psychiatrist cannot speak to one another without written consent. This is where the ROI, or Release of Information, comes in. This is a form that you can fill out with your teen’s psychiatrist and/or counselor to allow them to speak to one another.
I promise the point of this is not to gossip about anyone! You actually get to specify the content you are giving permission for us to share back and forth and what the purpose of communication is on the ROI form.
Allowing both providers to communicate is really helpful because we are experts in different realms of mental health treatment and collaborating gets everyone on the same page and we can divide and conquer your mental health as a team.
The best part of an ROI is you can revoke it anytime you want!
Begin Therapy for Teens in Metairie, LA Today!
As a Therapist, I have both personal and professional experience with these issues and am prepared to walk this journey of self-discovery with your teen. Follow the steps below to get started. Through ownership, balance, and practice, your teen can own the stage and the stage called life!
Other Mental Health Services Offered at Creative Counseling and Wellness
At my practice, I specialize in working with teens and their families. I work with a wide variety of individuals such as LGBTQ+ Teens, Teens with Anxiety, Theater Teens, Creative/Artistic Teens, Teens Questioning Gender Identity, High Achieving Teens, Teens with Social Anxiety, and Teens Struggling with Perfectionism.
Additionally, I also provide support with Group Therapy for Teens. My own life and experience give me a unique perspective that lends itself to working with teens especially.
Reach out today!