If you know someone with a mental health concern, you may have noticed that they will sometimes stop taking their medication without their doctor’s knowledge. This can be very upsetting, especially if they were doing well and their decision to stop their meds sets off a downward spiral with their mental health. It can be helpful to understand why someone would do this.
Why Patients Stop Taking Psychotropic Medications
When researchers studied why patients in The U.S., Canada, and Europe stopped taking antipsychotics for serious mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder, several reasons were revealed. The top reasons included:
- Poor insight – 55.6 percent of patients did not understand their mental health diagnosis or did not believe they actually had that condition.
- Substance abuse – 36.1 percent of patients may or may not have “chosen” to stop taking the medication. Their substance abuse may have caused them to forget.
- Negative attitude toward medication – 30.5 percent of patients expressed that they did not like medications or think they were helpful.
- Side effects – 27.8 percent decided the negative side effects were not worth tolerating.
- Cognitive impairments – 13.4 percent were not able to understand their medication or take it as prescribed.
Why Patients Stop Taking Medications in General
The American Medical Association reports that patients in the United States fail to take their medication as prescribed up to half of the time. The reasons they found have some overlap with the list above, but there were also some differences.
- Fear – this includes having concerns about side effects, especially when hearing about the bad experience of someone they know who takes similar medication.
- Price – the United States is infamous for having unaffordable healthcare, including medications. Unfortunately, some people find themselves prioritizing or rationing one prescription over another to cut costs. In the worst cases, people may be forced to choose between food, housing, and medication.
- Misunderstanding – when a patient does not understand why they need the drug or how long it should take to see results, they may stop taking it, believing that it is not working. This was found to be especially true for people with chronic conditions, when the medication is primarily preventative.
- Too many medications – sometimes a person has numerous prescriptions, all on different schedules. It can feel like they spend their whole day just taking meds, and that becomes frustrating. If their doctors arrange the doses of their various medications to coincide as much as possible or prescribe long-acting medications, this can help. There may also be combination products that will allow the person to get two or more of their drugs in a single pill.
- Symptoms are gone – some patients do not experience any difference in how they feel, whether or not they are on their prescriptions. Others may feel they are “cured” once their symptoms are managed by medication. They do not understand that the symptoms will come back after they stop taking their prescription.
- Distrust – the patient may not trust doctors or the pharmaceutical industry and may decide to stop the medication because they believe it is being prescribed unnecessarily.
- Diagnosis – as stated above, people with certain diagnoses, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are generally more inclined to stop taking their medications.
How Can You Help?
If you start to see changes in someone you love, this could be a sign that they have stopped taking their medications. Take note of the differences that you are seeing in them and when you first noticed the differences. If possible, share this information with their doctor.
It is also important to listen to your loved one. If they are expressing one of the concerns above, ask questions to learn more. They may need to have a discussion with their prescriber about different meds that might work better for them, learn more about their condition, or reduce how often they are taking pills to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
At Highland Hospital in West Virginia, it is important to us to help our patients and their support systems gain knowledge and insight into their diagnoses and to understand the benefits of the treatments we offer. We look forward to speaking to you regarding questions you may have about the services we offer.