Many industry-funded studies of drug discontinuation have asked patients why they stopped taking their medication. The studies tend to focus on improving compliance. The Cohen study, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, asks consumers about their experiences coming off psychiatric drugs. In particular, it asked about how the patients felt after stopping taking the medication, who helped them, and whether they were satisfied with the process.
Discontinuing psychiatric medications has many causes. It is often a matter of family pressure or fear that the drug may impact one’s personality. Another common reason is a change in lifestyle or a major life change. The “worst time” to stop taking your medication is when you’re undergoing a major transition. A person’s life may change drastically, and the last thing they want is to have to go through the stress of a major life change.
Researchers are working on a tool to help identify patients who have trouble sticking with their medication. Once developed, the tool could help doctors and patients work together to improve the chances of patient compliance. Further, it may provide insight into why mental health patients stop taking their medication. In the meantime, doctors can better target their treatments based on individual needs. This may help prevent relapses, which can lead to homelessness, episodes of violence, or hospitalization.
In addition to the psychological factors, medication compliance can also be affected by the patients’ awareness of their illness. One study in outpatients, conducted by Trauer and Sacks, found that impaired awareness of illness is the number one reason for non-adherence. While adherence to medication is important for patients, the feeling of shame can make symptoms of their illness worse. If these feelings are exacerbated, medication non-adherence can lead to more serious consequences.
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