What About Alternative Treatment Options?

Parents are rightfully cautious about getting treatment for children with mental health problems, especially if that treatment involves a psychotropic medication. Alternative treatments such as specialized diets (for example, avoiding sugar or food dye) and natural remedies or supplements can seem like a good solution if you are seeking treatment that feels safe, natural, and DIY.

However, parents exploring these options should be careful because there is very little data showing that most alternative treatments are actually helpful. Anecdotal evidence isn’t the same as scientific testing, and some alternative treatments, like chelation, are even potentially dangerous.

Time spent exploring non-evidence-based care may seem like a good investment, but it comes with an “opportunity cost” to your child. That is, the longer kids miss out on treatment that really affects symptoms the more time they’ll spend impaired, and in many cases missing out on crucial learning and development that goes on during childhood and adolescence. Their disorder may also grow worse without intervention. For many disorders, the longer a child experiences the symptoms, the more challenging it is to treat. For some, particularly autism, some interventions should be undertaken early.

Before trying an alternative treatment, discuss it with your child’s doctor. As with any treatment, ask a lot of questions. Learn how it works, what evidence supports it, when you should start seeing progress, and if there are any dangers associated. If you aren’t satisfied with the results of any treatment, make an appointment to discuss other options with your doctor or with another professional who can give a second opinion.

Supplementing Treatment

While not a treatment by itself, promoting good self-esteem and a healthy lifestyle is important for all kids with psychiatric disorders. Exercise makes us feel good, and it can make a big difference for kids who are feeling badly about themselves or have lots of energy. Things that promote self-awareness and relaxed reflection, like mindfulness meditation and yoga, are also generally beneficial.