Not complying with prescribed medication can significantly increase your relative’s risk of relapse for depression. Having a family member who won’t take their medications is a really frustrating, and common, challenge. So how do you approach it?
The first step is to try to understand why your loved one won’t take their antidepressant medication. Do they just forget? Are the side effects too bothersome? Are they worried about the stigma associated with taking prescription medications for a mental health issue? Each person is unique and will have different reasons for not taking their medication. It is important for family members and healthcare providers to work with them to understand their specific barriers to medication adherence and develop a plan that addresses those barriers.
If possible, try to learn why your loved one won’t take their antidepressant medication before you try to come up with a plan. Ask them without judgment and without trying to convince them to start taking them. Approach the issue with curiosity rather than judgment. To improve medication compliance, we must first identify the barriers.
Here are the common reasons people won’t take their antidepressant medication and how you might be able to help.
Your relative may forget to take their medications. They may have difficulty sticking to a consistent schedule and may miss doses accidentally. They may have complex dosing schedules and have trouble remembering to take their medication multiple times a day or may have trouble keeping track of when to take different medications.
How you can help them remember:
- Establish a routine: Encourage your family member to take their medication at the same time every day and to make it a part of their daily routine.
- Set reminders: Set reminders for your family member, such as using a smartphone reminder app, placing a note in a visible location, or using a pill box.
- Make it convenient: Make sure your family member has easy access to their medication, such as keeping it in a clearly marked container.
- Provide support: Offer to help your family member by reminding them to take their medication or by assisting with their medication management routine.
Lack of understanding antidepressant medication
People may not understand the purpose of their medication or the potential consequences of not taking it.
How you can help with understanding:
- Educate yourself and them: Learn as much as you can about depression and their medication so that you can better explain it to them. It may be helpful to use handouts, pictures, or videos to help them understand the information.
- Make it personal: Explain the benefits of medication in terms of how it can improve their day-to-day life, such as helping them to manage their symptoms, improve their ability to work, and improve their relationships with friends and family.
- Address their concerns: Address any concerns they may have about their medication, such as potential side effects, and provide reassurance and support.
- Connect with their doctor: Encourage your relative to talk to their doctor about any questions they have about their medication. Offer to go with them to their appointment if you’re available and if they want you to join them.
- Find support: Encourage your relative to connect with a support group for people with similar experiences. They can learn from other people’s experiences of both taking and not taking medication.
Side effects of antidepressant medication
Some medications used to treat depression can have unpleasant side effects. These side effects can be a major deterrent for some people.
How you can help mitigate side effects:
- Educate yourself: Understanding the side effects your relative may be experiencing will help you understand the situation better and feel more empathy toward your relative. Learn more about the side effects of antidepressants.
- Work with the healthcare provider: You can help your relative communicate with their healthcare provider about any side effects or concerns they may have regarding their medication. The doctor may adjust the dosage, switch to a different medication, or encourage them to stick with the medication despite the side effects.
- Highlight the benefits: Emphasize the benefits of taking the medication, such as managing symptoms, improving quality of life, and reducing the risk of hospitalization.
Stigma around depression and antidepressant medication
The stigma associated with mental illness can lead some people to avoid seeking treatment or disclosing their condition to others. They may be afraid of being labeled as “crazy” or “mentally ill” if they take medication. They may also feel ashamed or embarrassed about their illness and not want to take medication as a result.
How you can help deal with stigma:
- Challenge the stigma: Discuss the issue of stigma with your relative and encourage them to challenge and confront the negative stereotypes and misconceptions that exist around mental illness.
- Encourage openness: Encourage them to talk openly and honestly with friends, family, and healthcare providers about their condition and to seek support from those who understand and accept them.
- Seek out positive role models: Seek out positive role models, such as individuals who have successfully managed their mental health condition, and encourage your loved one to connect with them.
- Provide emotional support: Provide them with emotional support and encouragement, and let them know that you are there for them, regardless of their condition.
Lack of trust in the medical system
Some people may not trust healthcare providers, so they don’t trust that the medication prescribed is what’s best for them.
How you can help to build trust:
- Listen to their concerns: Listen to your relative’s concerns about the medical system or their healthcare provider and acknowledge their feelings.
- Seek a second opinion: Encourage your relative to seek a second opinion from a different healthcare provider to confirm the diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Work with the healthcare provider: Encourage your relative to talk openly and honestly with their healthcare provider about their feelings and to express any concerns they may have. Work with the healthcare provider to address these concerns and to find a solution that your relative is comfortable with.
Some people may abuse drugs and not take the medication they’re prescribed because it interacts with the substance they are using. This is a complex and challenging issue.
How to help when substance abuse interferes with treatment of depression:
- Encourage them to seek drug treatment: Ask your relative to consider addressing their drug use in a safe and supportive environment. They may need your help in connecting them with services. You’ll want to look for providers who specialize in treating people with addiction and mood disorders.
- Communicate with their healthcare providers: Encourage your relative to be honest with their providers about their drug use, as this will help the provider adjust their treatment plan to account for both the mental health condition and the drug use.
Lack of insight and/or denial
Lack of insight and/or denial may be occurring when someone is unaware of their depression or the problems they are experiencing or they are attributing the problems to causes other than depression. Refusing to engage in treatment or to take medication completely makes sense from the perspective of someone who doesn’t believe they are depressed, but it can be very frustrating for family members who clearly see a need for treatment.
How to help with denial:
- Communicate with their healthcare provider: Work with a healthcare provider to discuss your relative’s symptoms so that the provider can engage in a discussion with your relative about depression.
- Focus on goals: Instead of trying to convince your relative that they are depressed, talk about how medication can help them meet their goals. Perhaps they want to get a job or date. Encourage medication use by focusing on the potential impact of medication on reaching those goals.
- Use positive reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement to encourage your relative to seek treatment and take medication, such as praising them for their efforts and providing incentives for taking their medication as prescribed.
Cost of antidepressant medication
Medications can be expensive, and some people may not be able to afford them.
How to help offset costs:
- Talk to your loved one’s healthcare provider: Their healthcare provider may be able to offer suggestions for managing the cost of medication. They can determine if a generic form of the medication is available, which might be cheaper than the brand name. They can consider alternative treatment options that may be less expensive, while still effectively managing symptoms. They can also provide you with information about eligibility for disability insurance.
- Research insurance options: You can research different insurance options, including checking eligibility for Medicaid or Medicare.
- Contact the manufacturer: Many pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs that provide medication at no or reduced cost to eligible patients. You can reach out to the pharmaceutical company that makes the medication to see if there are any patient assistance programs or discounts available.
- Utilize prescription discount cards: There are several organizations that offer prescription discount cards for people who are struggling to pay for their medications. You can help research and apply for prescription discount cards that may offer savings for the prescribed medication.
- Explore local assistance programs: There may be local assistance programs or non-profit organizations that can help with the cost of the medication. You can help research and apply for these programs.
- Crowdfunding: You can start a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for medication costs.
Use empathy and understanding to help people who won’t take their antidepressant medication
Medication compliance is a complex issue, and each person’s situation is unique. It may take time and patience to find the right approach. As frustrating as medication noncompliance is, try to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Once you gain understanding, you may be able to help your loved one gain understanding, too.
If you would like to join a supportive community of people dealing with similar issues, consider joining our private Facebook group.