Let’s say that your child has been extremely sad, has been diagnosed with a so-called mental disorder and put on so-called psychiatric medication, and is now quite worse, deeper in despair, and talking about suicide more often.
How should you think about this moment? Your child’s mental health provider is likely to promote the idea that your child either needs a different dose of the antidepressant he or she is taking, a different antidepressant, or an additional antidepressant. What he or she is unlikely to suggest is that your child’s worsening is a direct result of taking these particular powerful chemicals, many of which are known to increase despair and thoughts of suicide. Given that your child’s helper is unlikely to provide this information, you would naturally feel pressured to go along with his or her suggestion regarding a change in meds. But now that you know that the chemicals themselves might be causing the deterioration, what should you do?
No one knows for sure. How can you know for sure when it isn’t clear whether, in a particular case, taking a chemical helps the best or not taking that chemical will help more or whether something additional or different ought to be tried? At the very least, you would want to try the following. You would want to put this conundrum on the table in your conversations with your child’s helper and not act like you are sanguine about the chemical fix route. You would want to see to what extent more talk can help, either with you, a talk therapist or with someone with whom your child talks most easily. You would want to research other options and see if you come to some intuitive understanding that maybe what’s wanted is a therapeutic wilderness experience, a mentor, a change in diet, less stress put on your child, a less isolating life for your child, or some other alternative. In this difficult situation, with only imperfect solutions, these three are the least that you ought to try: a fuller conversation about the chemicals that your child may be taking, efforts at more talk with your child, and a wide-ranging investigation of alternative approaches to helping and healing.
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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.