New study finds that stopping psychiatric medication is difficult, but most are "satisfied with their choice"

(Morro Bay, CA) – Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals.

While 1 in 6 Americans take a psychiatric medication for serious mental illness, there is little research on people’s experiences coming off of them. In the first large scale study in the U.S., Live & Learn, Inc., in partnership with researchers at UCLA, UCSF and New York University, began to fill this knowledge gap. Study findings are available online today in the journal Psychiatric Services, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Surveying 250 long-term users of psychiatric medications who had a diagnosis of serious mental illness and chose to discontinue use, the study found that more than half succeeded in discontinuing usage, despite having little professional support while experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms ranging from insomnia, tearfulness, and diarrhea. The majority of survey respondents cited the main reason they attempted to quit centered on health risks of long-term use and side effects.

Of the study’s 250 respondents, 54% managed to stay off psychiatric medication for at least one year, with few reporting relapse or rehospitalization. 82% of those who discontinued use reported being “satisfied” with their choice.

“Over 70% of our study sample had taken medication for more than a decade, however, these individuals reported having little to rely on when discontinuing except the Internet and social support in order to endure withdrawal. Limiting access to care through cuts to health and psychosocial services can only make that situation worse,” says Principal Investigator Laysha Ostrow, PhD.

“Most were working with a provider at the time but did not find them helpful in the process. However, even though it was often complicated and difficult, the majority who were able to come off medication completely were satisfied with their decision to do so.”

Dr. Laysha Ostrow is the founder and CEO of Live & Learn, Inc., a California-based, woman-owned social enterprise that provides research, technical assistance, and knowledge translation services to behavioral health systems. Live & Learn was founded in 2014 to partner with practitioners, patients, advocates, and researchers to ensure that the experiences of people who have used mental health services are represented in research. The study was funded through a grant by the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care.

Read about the study results on Dr. Ostrow’s blog.

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For information about full-text access to our article in Psychiatric Services, please contact Jessica@MentalHealthExcellence.org

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