Information for parents and caregivers

Deciding whether to start your child on medication can be a difficult decision. Below, you will find some information and resources to help you make an informed decision. Printable information in plain language on use of specific medications in children and adolescents is available from the categories listed to the left.


What are medications for mental disorders?

Medications for treating mental health problems are also sometimes called psychiatric medications. They are used to treat the symptoms of many mental health problems/mental disorders such as anxiety disorders, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic-depressive illness), depression, psychosis and schizophrenia. These medications are prescribed by doctors including Family Physicians and Psychiatrists, and are often used with other treatments such as counseling or psychotherapy. They can play an integral role in treating many mental health problems.


What do I need to know about medications for mental disorders?

1. Medications will not produce the same effect in all children/youth

Depending on the individual child/ youth’s age, sex, body size, and diet, as well as  other treatments/medications they may be on, medications  may have different effects. This may include differences in side effects, doses, and symptom relief.

2. Changes in doses and /or psychiatric medications are not unusual and may help in reducing the negative effects on the child/ youth

If  your child is experiencing or suspected to have negative effects on their health and wellbeing due to medications, including their sleep patterns, appetite and the ability to maintain an appropriate weight; parents and caregivers should speak to an appropriate health care professionals regarding changes to dosage and/or the type of medication.

3. All medications, including herbal supplements and over the counter medications, as well as all other forms of treatment should be discussed

Many of us may assume ‘over-the-counter’ medications or ‘natural’/herbal preparations are generally safe. However, if they are used in combination with psychiatric medications there may be drug interactions or side effects that may be dangerous for your child. In order to ensure safe, effective and appropriate treatment, parents/caregivers need to be honest and open in informing their healthcare professionals about all the medications, including herbs, and supplements, as well as  all other forms of treatment their child/youth may be using, when discussing use of psychiatric medications. Open communication can help your doctor find the right psychiatric medications for your child/youth.


What questions can I ask my doctor about these  medications?

 These questions will make communication among the partners in care (e.g. patient/client, parent/caregiver, service provider) easier and will support collaborative decision-making to improve treatment outcomes.

  • What is the name of the medication?  Are there generic versions? Are different brands all the same?
  • What is the medication supposed to do? How it can help address the symptoms?
  • Why are you recommending this medication for my child over other ones on the market?
  • How and when should my child take it?
  • How much should my child take?
  • What if my child cannot swallow a pill, are there any other options?
  • What should I do if my child misses a dose?
  • When and how should my child stop taking it?
  • Will it interact with other medications my child is taking?
  • Does my child need to avoid any types of food or drink while taking the medication? What should he/she avoid?
  • Should it be taken with or without food?
  • What are the risks of drinking alcohol or using substances while taking this medication?
  • What are the side effects? What should I do if my child experiences them? What signs/changes (physical, feelings, daily routines)  in our child should we be aware of while they are on psychiatric medications?
  • How can I explain the possible effects of taking psychiatric medications to my child?
  • What should I do if I suspect my child is not taking their medication as prescribed?
  • Is there a handout regarding the medication for me to take home?
  • Where can I find more reliable information about the psychiatric medication or who can I talk to if I have concerns/questions about the medications?
See Also: 
Off-Label Medication Use in Children and Adolescents
Explains the role of off-label medication use in children and adolescents. Includes questions families may ask their health care team.
Translation: fr
Is My Child Taking Their Medication?
Explains the possible signs and reasons why a child may not take medication as prescribed. Includes suggestions for how to talk with your child and your health care team when it is suspected a child is not taking their medication.
Translation: fr pa sc tc

BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.