Psychotropic medications are medications designed to alter the mind. These include stimulants like Adderall and antipsychotics like Zyprexa.
Psychotropic medications can have severe short- and long-term effects.Sometimes, of course, there is a real mental illness and it can be helpful and empowering for youth to identify with a diagnosis and decide to take medication.
However, there are also many times where the behavior of youth is labeled as mental illness when it might actually be an appropriate response to distressing conditions or environments.
This happens in many different situations, including in foster care and/or psychiatric treatment facilities, in immigration detention facilities, in schools, in stressful home environments, and in juvenile justice facilities.
What allows this labeling and psychiatrization to happen?
In part, it is the law. Most youths under 18 have no right to decide whether they take or refuse medication.
But the problem runs deeper than that. It's tied to ageism and the oppression of youth in society. Ageism refers to age-based stereotypes and discrimination. And age-based discrimination against young people is everywhere in our society.
Then, once youth are labeled and psychiatrized, it is hard to question that diagnosis. Often, youth resistance to psychiatrization is used as more evidence that the youth suffers from a mental illness (e.g., oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)).
We can begin by recognizing the importance of autonomy and bodily integrity for youth. And by recognizing the rights of youth to refuse medication in non-crisis situations. But the right to refuse is not enough.
Through this process, youth and adults can work together to address the social and environmental problems that cause distress. And the rights and minds of youth will be better respected and protected.