Is a person ever able to stop taking medications to treat their serious mental illness?

It can be challenging if a person wants to stop medications that are helping them manage symptoms. Understanding why they want to stop is essential. Is it due to side effects, or a lack of awareness of illness? These are two very different situations.

There are times when a clinician can support a person’s desire to lower or even stop their medications. This conversation ideally takes place in the course of a strong alliance between clinician, patient and family, where risks and benefits are all fully discussed. People with serious mental illness, but who are competent, can make choices with which a prescriber may not agree. Slow tapers of medication with careful monitoring for the return of symptoms can be a way to learn together about the impact of dose reduction. If you disagree with the patient decision, make that clear in a non-judgmental way and share you concern over the impact of this choice on their future. If the patient’s choice is driven by side effects, there may be other treatments to offer. If medications are stopped, it is important to continue to see the patient regularly to observe and discuss the patient’s experience and look for the emergence of symptoms.

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