Depression medications are only effective if patients take the correct dose for enough time. However, by some estimates, close to half of all patients stop taking their depression medications within four months and without discussing it with their doctor. Unfortunately, if people stop taking their depression medications before their doctor agrees to discontinuation, depression can return and withdrawal side effects may develop as well.
Even when a doctor says it is time to stop, depression medication dosages should be slowly decreased, rather than stopped abruptly, to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Patients who stop taking their depression medications on their own may not know how to do so properly.
If you have a loved one with depression, you may worry about whether or not he’s taking his medications. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to help a loved one stick to his treatment plan.
Step 1: Find Out Why They're Not Complying
There are many reasons that a person might stop taking their depression medications. Once you figure out why your loved one isn’t taking his antidepressants regularly or at all, you will be better able to help him stay on track. Here are some common reasons people give for giving up their depression medications:
- They don’t feel better. Because depression medications take a while to work, people may give up before they experience the benefits, or they may simply be on the wrong medication.
- They're having side effects. “Depression medication may make them too groggy or may increase their appetite and they are gaining weight,” notes Maria P. Aranda, PhD, LCSW, associate professor at the University of Southern California School of Social Work and Leonard Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles. “Antidepressants also may interfere with sexual libido.” Many side effects of depression medications can be managed — it’s just a matter of discussing these symptoms with the doctor.
- The drugs cost too much. People with more than one health issue that require drug treatment may face unpleasant choices about which prescriptions to pay for. Often depression medications are considered a lower priority than other long-term medications such as drugs for high blood pressure.
- They feel better. Although depression medications can sometimes take a few weeks to kick in, once they do, people feel better and may be tempted to simply quit taking them.
- They forget. People who are on a lot of medications or who have some difficulty with their memory may simply be forgetting to take their depression medications.
Step 2: Make A Plan For Depression Medication Adherence
Each of the reasons people give for stopping depression medications has its own solution. You can mix and match from the following ideas to find an approach that works for your loved one:
- Create a medication chart. This can be helpful, especially for people who have a lot of medications to keep track of. “Do a table — what is this medication, what is it for, what is the dosage, the frequency,” advises Aranda. This can keep some people on track, or help identify scheduling challenges at work or school.
- Educate your loved one. Patients who understand that depression medications are part of a long-term treatment plan are more likely to stick with them. Emphasize that they will probably be taking depression medications for six months or more. Make sure they know that stopping treatment could bring depression back.
- Involve their doctor. If side effects are a problem or they just don’t feel better, it may be possible to change the dose or type of medication. Encourage your loved one to share any new symptoms or complaints with the doctor so that medication adjustments can be made.
- Problem-solve any cost issues. A change in medication or working with a clinic or pharmacy to get lower-cost depression medications can help ease the financial burden.
- Create reminders. Many people are helped by using a pillbox divided into days and hours. However, depression and memory loss often go hand in hand, so your loved one may need more direct reminders such as:
- Daily phone calls to make sure they have taken their medication
- A wristwatch alarm set for whenever pills are due
You may also consider hiring personal attendants to watch them taking their medication, or you might just get into the habit of observing them yourself if your schedule permits.
“There is a whole industry around ‘cuing pills,’” points out Aranda, so with a little bit of research you will be able to find a multitude of tools to set alarms and dispense pills as they are needed.
Whichever method you choose, know that helping a loved one stay on track withdepression management is an important investment in his quality of life and overall health.