Moral Duty Beyond Prescribing Medications

Omar Reda, MD

One doctor gives his recommendations for attending to children’s happiness.

Many psychiatrists seem to have accepted, and are content with, the narrow scope of practice imposed upon them. For myself, however, I refuse to reduce the unlimited potential of psychiatry to merely prescribing psychotropics. Medications can be quite effective, even lifesaving, but they are not the only tool we can offer our clients.

I have been reflecting on the psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on our youth, and would like to share few thoughts that might provide hope for these beautiful, little creatures.

This writing is not intended to be a naive generalization or an over-simplification; I have used an easy language here with the goal of having these tips shared with clients, especially parents and caregivers. I hope they can also help you when taking care of your family and community, and even serve your own self-care and healing.

The wounds of trauma are, for the most part, invisible. They can scar our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. There are many hormones and chemicals involved in responding to adversity, especially protracted stress like the current pandemic. I will briefly mention 5 of those.

The hormone adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) is commonly known as the emergency hormone. It helps anticipate and prepare for threats, or activates fight or flight responses. That is helpful, and even critical short-term, but can have long-lasting negative consequences if we remain in a state of arousal, fearing an actual or a perceived threat. One way we can help children and those around us cope is to calm our mind and manage our anxiety. This can be done in many ways like meditation, mindfulness, and engaging in activities that are physically and mentally cathartic.

The hormone cortisol is commonly called the stress hormone. It helps us respond to stress, but it can also be harmful in the long run. One way to balance cortisol levels is to be kind to our bodies through mastering consistent healthy eating, sleeping, and lifestyle habits.

I want to focus now on 3 other chemicals, collectively known as the happy hormones. Dopamine (also known as the thrill hormone) is not only involved in addiction, thrill-seeking, and impulsivity, but is also a vital hormone for our emotional wellbeing. When it comes to children, we can give them a dopamine boost by simply paying attention to them. Children thrive when they feel noticed, therefore we should take every opportunity to let them know that they are seen, heard, and felt. Youth who feel safe seem to blossom, and start to believe in, and express, their beauty.

Serotonin (commonly known as the happiness hormone) is not only involved in depression, but it is also a chemical that is released when we feel valued. It is important to show appreciation to young people. When they trust in our unconditional love, they will start to believe in their own abilities, which boosts their self-esteem.

And lastly oxytocin (the love hormone) is released when children feel loved. One way to boost this hormone is to express affection towards them. Simple acts of grace and gratitude can work like magic. These can include eye contact, safe touch, smiling, kind words, and spending quality time with them.

I am a big fan and an outspoken advocate of taking care of young bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. When it comes to children, we would literally die to protect them from assaults and shield them from insults, yet many of us engage in verbal attacks and acts that verge on being abusive or neglectful towards them. I know that we are all trying our best given our circumstances, but when it comes to our loved ones, we can always do better.


To prescribe the hormones of happiness, try the Triple-A Approach:, pay attention, show appreciation, and express affection towards the people who matter most. Small moments can make all the difference.

Dr Reda is a practicing psychiatrist in Providence Healthcare System, Portland, OR.