Mental illness is on the rise in America with approximately 1 in 5 adults or 43.8 million people, experiencing mental illness in a given year. So one can only assume that psychiatric medication use is on the rise as well.

What you didn’t expect is that over a million children under the age of six are on psychiatric medications as well. Around half of these children are in the 4-5-year-old range, an incredible 274,804 of them are younger than a year old. Yes, you read that correctly! Babies are being given psychiatric medications. The numbers are higher for toddlers in the 2-3-year-old range, with 370,778 kids overall.

Let’s Look At The Facts:

Many believe this is no cause for concern. In fact, Psychology Today says, “no research suggests the notion that psychiatric medications are over prescribed. In fact, according to a new study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, if there is an epidemic, it’s an epidemic of untreated and unmedicated psychiatric disorders.”

A study done at Columbia University in 2018 concluded that psychiatric medications for children are not over prescribed. The findings were published online in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

“Over the last several years, there has been widespread public and professional concern over reports that psychiatric medications are being overprescribed to children and adolescents in the United States,” Ryan Sultan, MD, a child psychiatrist, and researcher at CUIMC who led the study. “We were interested in better understanding this concern.”

The study gathered data on 6.3 million children from a national prescribed database. Children aging 3-24-year-old. Looking at three different psychiatric medication classes; antidepressants, stimulants, and antipsychotics.

The study found that significantly fewer children took medications that you would expect. Some highlights include:

  • 1 in 8 teenagers has depression, but less than 1 in 30 took antidepressants.
  • 1 in 12 children have ADHD, but only 1 in 20 took medications.
  • Less than one percent of the youngest children took psychiatric medications, completely undermining the notion that very young children take dangerous medications they do not need.
  • Adolescents were more likely than other groups to take psychiatric drugs. Overall, 7.7% of teenagers took these drugs.
  • Around 1% of teens took antipsychotic drugs.
  • Stimulant use was highest in older children, who used these medications at a rate of 4.6%.

The number of Children & Adolescents Taking Psychiatric Drugs in the U.S.

But if you look at data taken from the IQVoa Total Patient Tracker Database for 2017, extracted April 2018, those numbers look a little off.

Drug Class:            Age Group:          Number of People:

All Psychiatric       0-5 Years               622,723



0-1 Years                125,361

2-3 Years                202,319

4-5 Years                306,079

6-12 Years             3,259,955

13-17 Years           3,419,633

Grand Total:           0-17 Years               7,213,599 kids on psychiatric drugs

To See the actual breakdown by medication class click here.

With numbers like these it is no wonder that many skeptical parents and advocates express concern about the “epidemic” that is taking place involving the overuse of medications. No one wants their children on medication that they do not need, especially with the side effect risks and harm to developing brain chemistry.

It is so important to ensure that your child is getting an accurate diagnosis with more than 200 psychiatric diagnoses listed in the DSM-5. Depression, ADHD, and similar conditions are common, many people assume they account for their child’s symptoms. But the wrong treatment could make the condition so much worse.

In most cases, medications should be taken as a last resort. Work with your children and medical professionals and devise a plan that is best for your family be it medications, yoga, art therapy, breathing exercises and/or physical exercise. Appropriate treatment now can make a lasting difference in your child’s life. Please do not be intimidated by scare tactics, do your research and do what you think is right.

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