Why adherence to prescription medications is essential for treating depression

Much like a seatbelt is only as useful for a passenger if it’s worn before a crash, medications don’t work for a patient if they aren’t taken as prescribed. Stopping, skipping or minimizing the prescribed dosage of your medication, known as medication non-adherence, can have a big impact on the effectiveness of the treatment your physician has prescribed.

Depression and treatment with prescription medication is more common than you might think.

An estimated one in four Canadians has a degree of depression serious enough to warrant treatment at some time in their life which could include drug therapy such as antidepressant drugs and mood stabilizers.

According to Express Scripts Canada’s 2020 Drug Trend Report, depression represented the third highest spending category among the 19-to-35-year-old age group, and the sixth within the 36-to-65-year-olds.

Read more: COVID-19 and mental health: A growing threat to Canadians

Research conducted by ESC also indicated that the rate of adherence to mental health prescriptions among drug plan members is lower than with medications used to treat other conditions.

Surprisingly, 38 per cent of members with depression indicated they are nonadherent.

While nonadherence can be a common problem related to the treatment of chronic conditions, prescription treatment for depression can present specific challenges.

There can be many different reasons why a patient is nonadherent from clinical, behavioral or cost-related.

Antidepressants take time to work as they were prescribed and sometimes the prescription will need to be adjusted and switched or added before the right medications and dosages are realized.

Antidepressant medication can take up to eight weeks for it to be fully effective so the patient can feel the benefits. Since it can take time for this to happen, a patient can lose faith in their prescription and stop their dosages prematurely.

Their mental health condition can present another challenge to adherence when the patient believes they no longer need their medication because they feel ok in the moment.

In addition, unpleasant side effects can also result in a patient terminating their prescribed treatment.

Addressing nonadherence with a personalized approach is key to improving the rate of nonadherence and supporting members suffering from depression so they can feel and live their best life.

Pharmacists are in an ideal position to support their patients by optimizing medications and following up with them. They can provide an invaluable first line of support, as well as further education and information.

They are also often available outside of regular business hours and in locations where others are not, offering patients’ accessibility to healthcare when they could need it the most.

Read more: How pharmacists can help patients with depression

If you are having a difficult time adhering to your treatment plan as directed, speak with your pharmacist or healthcare provider as soon as possible. If cost is a problem, your pharmacist may be able to speak with your doctor about switching you to a similar but more cost-effective medication. If you’re experiencing uncomfortable side effects, your pharmacist can help you to reduce or manage them or – if that isn’t possible – talk to your doctor about different treatment options.

Read more: Depression is an illness. Let’s manage it that way.

Altering a dosage that has been prescribed to you shouldn’t be an individual decision made as a patient.

If, for any reason, you are thinking about not taking your medication as it was prescribed to you, contact your pharmacist or healthcare professional to discuss your concerns and they will adjust your medication, if necessary, with your best health interest in mind whilst considering your complete medical history.