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Explanation of Psychotropic Meds

Last updated on November 22nd, 2021


I’m a school nurse at a special education school for kids with psychiatric and behavioral disorders who are a danger to themselves or others. I give lots of psychotropic meds to kids at school. This year, I’d like to provide some information for teachers and other school staff about the meds our kids are taking. I’d like to briefly touch on how and where in the brain these meds operate, but I don’t want to have to give a class in organic chemistry first. Do you have any ideas for resources that might include some good visuals/explanations in plain English?


With the caveat that we still don’t fully understand how these psychotropic drugs operate in the brain-or what their long-term effects are in children and adolescents-you might find the book Straight Talk About Psychiatric Medications for Kids, by Timothy Wilens MD, quite helpful. I haven’t read it, but I know Dr. Wilens’ work, and the contents of the book look promising: e.g., “What Every Parent Should Know about Psychiatric Medications for Children”; “The Preliminaries: Building a Foundation of Knowledge”, and chapters on the major psychotropic drug groups.

Explanation of Psychotropic Meds

As far as illustrations go, Dr. Stephen Stahl has done some very good cartoon-like illustrations for several articles on psychotropic drugs, showing how these agents affect neurotransmitters, etc. See, for example, his article on the SSRIs in the Psychiatric Annals 27:82-84, 1997 and numerous columns by Dr. Stahl in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. His book, Essential Psychopharmacology, also contains many diagrams.

You might also be interested in the book, Helping Parents, Youth and Teachers Understand Medications for Behavioral and Emotional Problems, by Mina K. Dulcan MD (available from www.healthsourcebooks.org.). This contains informational handouts “to help promote the dialogue between the patient’s family, caregivers, and the treating physician.” It is intended “for use in conjunction with clinical evaluation and treatment”. I hope these references prove helpful.

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