American Psychiatric Association

View all recommendations from this society

Released September 20, 2013; revised August 21, 2014

Don’t routinely prescribe an antipsychotic medication to treat behavioral and emotional symptoms of childhood mental disorders without approved or evidence-supported indications.

There are both on and off label clinical indications for antipsychotic use in children and adolescents. FDA approved and/or evidence-supported indications for antipsychotic medications in children and adolescents include psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, tic disorders, and severe irritability in children with autism spectrum disorders. There is increasing evidence that antipsychotic medication may be helpful for some disruptive behavior disorders. Prescribe antipsychotics to children and adolescents only after a careful diagnostic assessment with attention to comorbid medical conditions, a review of the patient’s prior treatments, and trials of other medications with a more substantial evidence base for the target of treatment. Combine both evidence-based pharmacological and psychosocial interventions and support. Limited availability of evidence based psychosocial interventions may make it difficult for every child to receive this ideal combination. It is critical to discuss potential risks and benefits of medication treatment with the child and their guardian. A short- and long-term treatment and monitoring plan with regular follow-up visits is critical to assess outcome, side effects, metabolic status and discontinuation, if appropriate. The evidence base for use of atypical antipsychotics in preschool and younger children is limited and therefore caution is warranted in prescribing in this population.

These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

How The List Was Created

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) created a work group of members from the Council on Research and Quality Care (CRQC) to identify, refine and ascertain the degree of consensus for five proposed items. Two rounds of surveys were used to arrive at the final list: the first round narrowed the list from more than 20 potential items by inquiring about the extent of overuse, the impact on patients’ health, the associated costs of care and the level of evidence for each treatment or procedure; and the second gauged membership support for the top five and asked for suggested revisions and comments. The surveys targeted the CRQC; the Council on Geriatric Psychiatry; the Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families; and the Assembly, which is the APA’s governing body consisting of representative psychiatrists from around the country. After the work group incorporated feedback from the two large surveys, the APA’s Board of Trustees Executive Committee reviewed and unanimously approved the final list.

On April 22, 2015, APA revised item 3. Read more about these changes and rationale.

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