Managing Compliance

May 1, 2002
Richard Balon, MD

Volume 19, Issue 5

For various reasons, up to half of patients stop taking their prescribed antidepressant within three months. Side effects are often the biggest obstacle in maintaining treatment adherence. How can clinicians help patients deal with the sexual dysfunction and weight gain that often accompany psychotropic treatment?

Compliance with treatment, or treatment adherence, is a very important clinical issue. In prescribing medication, compliance usually means "the extent to which the patient takes the medication as prescribed" (Fawcett, 1995). Many mental disorders require more than just a brief medication intervention. For some patients, several months or years of medication or even lifelong medication is necessary. For instance, the recommended treatment time for the first episode of depression is six to 12 months, but almost half of patients stop taking their antidepressant within three months for various reasons (Lin et al., 1995). Noncompliance can have serious consequences, such as relapse or recurrence of the illness. Therefore, enhancing medication compliance (or preventing noncompliance) is an important treatment goal for patients and clinicians. The first step in this process is the recognition and prevention of factors that could lead to noncompliance.

Factors Affecting Compliance