Selected Issues > Children & Psychiatric Medications
Children & Psychiatric Medications

children drugs issuesAbout one in five children and adolescents has symptoms of a psychological disorder, according to the United States Surgeon General. Equally worrying, both the number of children diagnosed with a psychological disorder and the number receiving medications (including stimulants, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and other medications) have risen dramatically in recent years. The medications include stimulants for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers.

The ethical concerns are numerous and varied, ranging from questions about whether these drugs are being overused or misused in children to long-term safety, the accuracy of diagnosis, and the influence on clinical diagnosis and public debate of special interest groups—both organizations ideologically opposed to psychotropic medications in children and pharmaceutical companies intent on making a profit.

From the Hastings Center


Pharmacological Treatment of Emotional and Behavioral Disturbances in Children: Engaging the Controversies

The growing number of children treated with psychotropic medications has given rise to controversies about the medications’ safety and efficacy and about the value and meaning of pharmacological treatment of childhood emotional and behavioral disturbances.

Special Report

Troubled Children: Diagnosing, Treating, and Attending to Context

Report by Erik Parens and Josephine Johnston

More and more children in the United States receive psychiatric diagnoses and psychotropic medications—this is not news. With those increased rates of diagnosis and pharmacological treatment come sometimes intense debates about whether those increases are appropriate, or whether healthy children are being mislabeled as sick and inappropriately given medications to alter their moods and behaviors. Some of these debates are inevitable, given the conceptual issues surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders in general and the application of these diagnostic categories and treatment modalities to children in particular. In this report, we will describe many of those complexities, paying close attention to the ineradicable role that value commitments play not only in decisions about the appropriate modes of treatment, but also in diagnosis.

2011 March-April

Psychiatry and Values

By Gregory E. Kaebnick
This issue of the Hastings Center Report includes a special report that comes out of a three-year Hastings Center research project on controversies surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in children. Erik Parens and Josie Johnston, authors of the report and the Hastings Center investigators in this project, ask what a psychiatric diagnosis is: what kind of statement is it? Is it just a statement of fact? Or does it necessarily reflect individual and cultural values?

Bioethics Briefing Book

Mental Health in Children and Adolescents

By Erik Parens and Josephine Johnston


Diagnostic Change Not Enough to Help Children Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Write Hastings Center Scholars in New England Journal of Medicine

New England Journal of Medicine commentary by Erik Parens and Josephine Johnston examines new pediatric DSM category

Troubled Children Report on Pediatric PsychiatryTroubled Children: Diagnosing, Treating, and Attending to Context

 Parens, Erik and Josephine Johnston. "Troubled Children: Diagnosing, Treating, and Attending to Context." Special Report, Hastings Center Report 41, no. 2 (2011)

 Parens, Erik and Josephine Johnston. "Controversies Concerning the Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder in Children." Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 4, no. 9 (2010).

 Parens, Erik and Josephine Johnston. "Facts, Values, and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): An Update on the Controversies." Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 3, no. 1 (2009).

 Parens, Erik and Josephine Johnston. "Understanding the Agreements and Controversies Surrounding Childhood Psychopharmacology." Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 2, no. 5 (2008).

Sharna Olfman, No Child Left Different: America’s Lost Tolerance and the Psychiatric Overmedication of Our Kids (Praeger, 2006).