Medication for Mood Disorders in Children

Medication can be an important and sometimes critical component of treating children and adolescents who have mood disorders. Psychiatrists at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, provide medication consultations and treatment for children and adolescents with mood disorders and coexisting mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Sometimes, medication is combined with another form of treatment, such as psychotherapy.

Many parents have reservations about treating their children with medication. During a medication consultation, our clinicians meet with you to describe the different medications, how and when they are used, the benefits and potential side effects of each, and how long they may be needed. Parents have the opportunity to raise any questions or concerns with our specialists.

Our child and adolescent psychiatrists select the appropriate medication for your child and can help you and your child to manage any side effects. Your child’s psychiatrist regularly assesses how well the medication is working and whether any adjustments to the dosage or type of medication are necessary.

Follow-up appointments initially occur weekly, during the period of time when symptoms are most intense and medication adjustments are being made. These appointments are then usually reduced to monthly visits and may eventually occur once every three months.

Medication for Major Depressive Disorder

Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common medications used to treat people with depression. They work by increasing the amount of a chemical messenger called serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin relays signals between the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, to regulate mood, appetite, and sleep. Raising the level of serotonin helps neurons pass messages from one nerve cell to another. This may contribute to improved mood and reduced anxiety.

Several different SSRIs are available, and our child and adolescent psychiatrists select the most appropriate one for your child. The length of time a child takes a medication after his or her symptoms have resolved depends on many factors, including whether the child has had a previous episode of depression. Medication may be prescribed along with psychotherapy.

Medication for Persistent Depressive Disorder

As with major depressive disorder, treatment for persistent depressive disorder may involve medication, psychotherapy, or both. SSRIs and other types of antidepressant medication may be used in conjunction with evidence-based psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Medication for Bipolar Disorder

For children and teens with bipolar disorder, doctors may prescribe one of a variety of mood-stabilizing medications, including lithium, anticonvulsants, or antipsychotics. These medications help to balance the brain chemicals that regulate emotions. Occasionally, antianxiety medications may also be prescribed. The medications used are carefully tailored to your child’s symptoms.

Bipolar disorder affecting children and adolescents usually requires long-term management with medication, sometimes for life.

Medication for Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Children with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder may be prescribed an antidepressant medication, as well as a combination of other classes of medications, including stimulants. These treatments can reduce impulsivity and temper outbursts and improve your child’s ability to focus, work, and learn.

Resources for Mood Disorders in Children
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