My Teen Stopped Taking His Psychiatric Medication
My child with mental illness stopped taking his psychiatric medication without telling me.
Yeah, I spit 'em out. I flushed 'em in the toilet and ran 'em down the garbage disposal. I slid 'em into my pockets and held 'em under my tongue. Why? Because they make me feel normal and I hate feeling normal!
I know medicine refusal is common for those living with mental illness. A chapter is devoted to the topic in every book. I should not have been surprised.
But I tried to prevent this from happening. Early in Bob's treatment, I told him if he ever wanted to stop taking bipolar medications (just meds in our house), it was okay with me. We would work closely with his psychiatrist. Surely, Bob would learn not taking medication was a bad decision.
But we never got that far with the controlled experiment because it took an exhausting 18 months of bipolar medication changes to finally find stability. It was during that first short period of stability Bob decided to stop taking his meds.
Changing Your Child's Psychiatric Medication
When Bob stopped taking his meds, I didn't know about it. There were signs of escalating mania. Bob was euphoric at his annual well check. He sang, texted seven girls at once, and flexed shirtless. When the doctor asked how he was, Bob replied, "Amazing!"
A medication change followed.
Bad behaviors continued, which led to daily calls from the vice principal. Bob threw a slushy in the class bully's face at lunch. He got a detention for hiding in a cabinet during music. He even skipped class.
At home, Bob was not eating or sleeping well.
I called Bob's eighth grade homeroom teacher. She had a unique perspective as she saw Bob first thing in the morning and last period of the day. Perhaps she could provide information.
She had nothing. I thanked her for her time and hung up, confused. For weeks, Bob's behavior worsened. The medicine change was not helping.
Learning Your Child is Not Taking Medicine as Prescribed
The phone rang again. It was Mrs. Homeroom Teacher. She asked if it was possible Bob wasn't taking his medication.
I assured her Bob took his meds everyday. I carefully counted the pills and placed them in a container in the kitchen. We checked it daily. I was extremely proud of Bob's cooperation since we had difficulty getting him to take meds when he was initially diagnosed.
She stammered, then gingerly told me her son saw Bob spit out his medication recently while walking home from school. I confronted another friend of Bob's and asked him if he ever saw Bob spit out his medication. The boy's face answered my question.
Finally, I discussed the issue with my husband. He recounted their morning routine. Bob ate breakfast, took his medication, then cleaned his dishes and ran the garbage disposal.
The Truth About Bipolar Medication Side Effects
I cut to the chase with Bob. "I know you haven't been taking your meds. I just need to know how long and why so we can discuss it with Dr. B."
He said he hated feeling normal. It was fun to feel happy and brave. Besides, basketball tryouts were coming up and the meds slowed him down.
Dr. B tried to convince Bob to take the medication that worked so well for him. I asked the doctor to prescribe something less sedating so Bob would take it. Bob tried the new medication which eventually led to another period of stability.
Cartoon courtesy of Jantoo.com.
Halli, C. (2014, August 17). My Teen Stopped Taking His Psychiatric Medication, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2014/08/my-teen-stopped-taking-his-psych-meds
Author: Christina Halli
I am someone who has Bipolar and thank you for this.
I started showing symptoms at 12, I had a manic attack then followed by the sudden swing down and had my first suicide attempt. My mom doesn’t believe in mental illness and never got me diagnosed. I had another suicide attempt at 16.
I finally got diagnosed at 21 and was put on medication that didn’t work. Another suicide attempt at 22 after I quit my meds had a manic episode and then crashed. I then got on medication and but none seemed to work until at 29 I tried lithium and it made me stable.
My being unmedicated has caused a lot of difficulties for me ($20,000 in debt on nothing stuff and some other big stuff) so it’s good that you’re talking about this because you want to set up your child with success and it’s hard to do when they are wishy washy with their medications.
I am 36 and I’ve gone through A LOT because of my bipolar. I still have mild swings but nothing drastic as I had in the past. How I maintain success is 1. Pills 2. ROUTINE I get up at the same time, eat at the same time, and go to bed at the same time 3. Mild Exercise (too much or too long sets off my mania) 4. I generally watch what I eat, nothing is off limits but I make sure I hit the water, veggies, and fruit guidelines.
Hello, I have done a lot of research into different mental illnesses and autism. The one underlying fact in all of this is FOOD. The human brain does not process preservatives, and these days, most of the food consumed is laden with preservatives. Macdonalds is probably the worst food anyone can consume. My ex girl friend had a young son, who she said had ADHD. The changes in him were pretty full on when drinking coke, or eating junk food. As much as I tried, and even gave her the reading materials, she refused to acknowledge the problem. You really have to look at someones diet. The society we live in today is eating the totally wrong foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables, plenty of water, and limiting sugar intake. Soft drinks especially have a huge impact on the brain. Fanta or Sunkist are really bad because of the colouring in them. I work as a support worker and see these issues all the time. I worked with a young bloke, who, when he had consumed Pepsi Max, would have bad behaviours. The sugar replacement is even worse.
This is my son - except he tells everyone that is will not and is not going to take any meds. they make him stupid and not his real self. Where do we go for help???? He is jr in high school in at treatment best of the best for 60 days and they have no place that will take him for long term under 100 thousand a year. because he is not and will not take meds. He can be dangerous!!!! i do not want him home.
It was an honor to read all of your stories. What really jumped out to me in your story Kate was the positive landing place he us now in. I'd hazard a guess your worry for him is hard to shake given such a challenging journey for you all... but really wow! You have successfully supported not just one child but three children to come out the other side of significant challenge to mostly stable, positive adulthoods. I'm filled with admiration. Cheers, sarah
I have been down that road and now it's 6 months and my son is compliant with meds, and every day I'm scared that he will refuse because of weight gain, other side effects. The doctor has been lowering the meds, so we will see....but I completely relate with you Katie.
My son is now compliant, thanks to the help of his doctor, therapist, and his own experimentation. He learned that he doesn't like the way he feels when he doesn't take his medication. He was embarrassed when his friends laughed at him for being disrespecful to the teachers. He especially hated the pain of depression which he learned always follows a fun manic episode. It was a scary time for me to go through, but the decision to take the medication had to be Bob's. If the side effects become intolerable for your son, let the doctor know. There are many options of psyche medications and every child is different.
Reading that story, just makes me soooo much
more sad! That's me, Her son is "ME"
It sounds like you are sad because you can identify with Bob. That is understandable. A lot of people quit taking their medications for a lot of good reasons. My experience is that my son had to learn on his own what was best for him. It was painful and scary for me, but we got through it and now he willingly takes his medication.
I am going through this right now with my 14yr old refusing to take her meds and has been tossing them or flushing them for two weeks. Which now explains some of the behaviors she has displayed the last two days. I can’t force her but I know how bad things get off her meds and we literally have spent the last year getting her to the point she is now. This is so hard and there isn’t much help out there sadly!
Kate, thank you for sharing your story. As the mother of an OCD child , I can relate to so much. Even if life can seem perfect at times , it never stays that way for long. Our challenges are great and you have gained much in the face of them.
I too have a son diagnosed as Bipolar. He had ADHD as a child, was off-the-charts smart and tested off-the-charts, but he never fit in with other kids (he was a nerdy, geeky guy), not because of his smarts, but because of his inability to blend socially. Life was a roller coaster as my other two younger children were "normal" socially, academically, emotionally, and have "even tempers". As time went on, my oldest son had rapid-cycling bipolar disorder and would stay up days at a time, become extremely depressed and was all over the map. His highs were very high, his lows were frighteningly scary. He graduated high school at the top of his class academically, was valedictorian, but was emotionally withdrawn. I never knew what I'd get at breakfast and he'd be a different person at dinner. He was offered four full rides to elite universities. He decided he did not want to go to college. Talk about heartbreak. I won't go into how we found this out as it's a long story but it was full of lies and deception to his father and me. He escalated 3 weeks before high school graduation and my husband told him to leave. He (my son) hit me for the first time. I was heartbroken, but the violent behavior and his dismissal and denial of what was going on had become too much. He moved out of the family home and into an apartment with a friend. He stopped taking medications all together because he didn't like the way they made him feel. He then refused to have anything to do with the family for 3 years. Those were a very difficult 3 years; however, we still had 2 children in the home that needed and wanted parents. We kept tabs on our son through friends, although at one time we thought we would have to legally intervene and sought counsel re guardianship, if nothing more than financial and medical management. Our fears, our love, our compassion were all tested. He came back into the fold, only to leave again after 3 months. This time his no contact was 2.5 years and then my husband suddenly died (no illness, sudden cardiac death). I reached out to my oldest son. His initial response was with tears and emotion, then alcohol and pot. I told him the alcohol had to stop, he complied in my presence. My other two children went to grief counseling for one year. My eldest went for one visit, despite my offer of paying for grief counseling for one year. His drinking and smoking pot escalated as he was self-medicating. Now as a single parent, my goal is to remain in touch letting him know I am here for him. I have seen growth in his late 20s. He still refuses medication. He smokes pot occasionally and drinks occasionally. This is progress. He has worked since he was out of the home and I'm proud to say he keeps his jobs and always makes great moves in advancement when he goes from one job to the other. He makes over $100k per year at 27 years old, with no college education. He is doing well in the real world. His head still hurts, he still doesn't sleep. He drinks energy drinks when he's depressed and he smokes pot when he's manic. I've had to let go and love him just the way he is. It's not perfect, but he has his own home, manages it well, gets up and goes to and from work every day, makes good money, socializes with his group of friends, and is now in touch with me, his younger brother, and his younger sister. It's not perfect, it's less than pretty, but it works. I do not see the flashes of anger, the temper, the threats or any violence anymore. Fashioning knives out of broken glass at school and stabbing a student in the hand, throwing rocks at a "popular girl's" head ... those days are gone and I hope and pray my son is on the road to recovery. I keep close tabs on him but I never feel it's close enough. You never stop being a mother or parenting. You want to keep them safe and keep others safe. I've skipped over a lot of details re doctors and psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, two school districts, four schools, testing, fights, tears, and so much more. I understand. You are not alone. Many hugs to you and yours from one who gets it all too well.
You have certainly been through a lot. It's unfortunate that our stories are so similar. I have found that to be the case among many families living with bipolar disorder. Ditto the med refusal and self medication. Tough stuff for a mother to watch. It sounds especially hard to do without your husband. I am sorry you lost your husband so suddenly. It is understandable that your son had a difficult time with that loss. Still it sounds like your son is managing the illness as best he can. Bottom line, we can't do it for them. You are an amazing mom. Thank you for sharing your story.