Sticking to any course of medication can be tricky, even when you’re not suffering from a mental illness. Remembering it at the same time every day is not easy when every day is different, and sometimes you may even forget whether you’ve taken it. The question of how to improve medication compliance is challenging for both patients and clinicians, and understanding why some people lapse in their medications is critical to answering this question.
Depending on their diagnosis, around 50% of patients with major psychiatric disorders stop taking their psychotropic medication. This is due to a variety of reasons, including:
- Perceived stigma associated with the use of psychotropic medications
- The patient’s attitude toward medication — they may believe the meds can harm them, that the meds are unnatural or that voices are telling them not to
- Negative side effects
- The patient’s lack of understanding of the importance of taking medication or the nature of their illness
However, taking these meds can be vital to the well-being of the patient and those around them. Here are some compelling reasons to keep taking your psychotropic meds.
1. Consistent Use Reduces Side Effects
When you first start on your course of psychotropic medications, there may be side effects. These can range from blurred vision, trouble sleeping and drowsiness to nausea, vomiting and sexual issues. To many patients, especially when they’re anxious and feeling ill, these side effects might seem overwhelming. This can lead to some patients discontinuing the drug’s use as they believe the side effects to be worse than the illness.
However, they do usually ease off as your body becomes accustomed to the medication. If you stop taking your meds, then begin taking them again, you may in fact find the side effects are worse as your body’s systems become confused by starting to get used to a substance, no longer receiving it, then having it introduced again.
2. Intermittent Use of Meds Can Worsen Symptoms
Psychotropic meds work by altering your brain chemistry to relieve your symptoms, whether it’s depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or any other mental illness. Before you start taking the medication, it’s likely you already had some coping mechanisms in place as you expect to feel a certain way. However, as the meds begin to work, you rely on these mechanisms less.
If you then stop taking the medication, it’s a shock to the system, and the symptoms return worse than they were before. For example, if your depression caused headaches, insomnia or physical pain, you may get worse headaches and increased pain and find it even harder to sleep.
3. Stopping Your Meds Suddenly Can Cause Medical Complications
Your body is an immensely complicated system of chemicals held in balance by biological processes. If you introduce new chemicals to this, that balance is altered. The same is true when one is removed, causing physiological symptoms and complications. Withdrawal symptoms from ceasing your medications can range from anxiety, fatigue and nightmares to vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and flu-like symptoms.
Another complication is an increased risk of suicide. In several studies, patients going cold turkey from their meds reported a higher incidence of suicidal thoughts. The highest risk was found in patients who hadn’t successfully completed the first 56 days of a treatment program.
4. Risk of Worsening Other Health Conditions
If you’re a patient taking multiple medications in addition to your psychotropic meds, this can lead to problems even before you decide to stop taking one. However, your doctor will have assessed any possible adverse interactions before prescribing your psychotropic meds and taken this into account.
Unfortunately, when you stop taking your psychotropic meds, a delicate balance can be disturbed. Even if other conditions aren’t being created by a specific medication, this can lead to them worsening or flaring up again. For example, patients with depression often also have addiction issues. Discontinuing antidepressants can cause the addiction to manifest again, often worse than before.
5. It Becomes Difficult to Assess Your True Health Status
While you’re taking your medication, your doctor can regularly assess your condition to determine whether to continue medication, increase or decrease it or change to a different one. However, once you decide to stop adhering to your medication, this becomes more of a challenge.
When you stop your meds, the symptoms all change. The condition you were being treated for re-emerges, other conditions may worsen and you begin to suffer from withdrawal. Unfortunately, your doctor will no longer be able to tell which symptoms are from your original condition, which are due to withdrawal and which, if any, are completely unrelated to either. Your doctor then has a much less clear picture of how to proceed with treatment.
Help With How to Improve Medication Compliance
Even when you’re aware of all the points illustrated above, medication compliance in mental health is still a challenging issue. Whether you’re the patient or attempting to decide how to convince someone else to take medication, there are a few ways you can make it a little easier.
- Create a routine. Once taking your medication becomes routine, you’ll find it much easier to keep taking it. If you have a regular schedule already, incorporate your meds with it. For example, make taking your medication part of your breakfast routine.
- Keep them visible. If you’re taking your meds with breakfast, perhaps keep them by your cereal box. If they’re hidden away, you’re far more likely to forget to take them. Note: Always take care to keep meds out of reach of children and pets.
- Set an alarm. We all carry our cellphones everywhere these days, so set a schedule of alarms to remind you to take your medications.
- Carry extra doses. Even with other precautions being taken, you may still occasionally forget to take a dose. In that case, it’s handy to have a spare dose in your jacket pocket, purse or handbag.
At Sun Health Center, we can help you manage your mental health with telehealth services, outpatient drug management prescriptions and more. We know it can be difficult to adhere to your medication programs while the effects kick in and can offer support to keep you focused on your recovery. Contact us today online or by calling 866-499-0315 to speak to one of our friendly, professional team members.