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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Ask the Psychiatric Pharmacist #6

Written by Mark Schneiderhan, Pharm.D.

I was told by my doctor that I need to take the medication for the rest of my life. Is it absolutely true that I will have to take the medication for the rest of my life?

There are a few things to consider when thinking about long-term treatment of mental illness. Similar to the treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes, a person can be on medications for many years, even a lifetime. The reason for this is that they are prescribed by doctors to help relieve symptoms or put disorders in remission but not be a cure in most cases.   

Most important, medication treatment needs to be tailored to the person depending on the type of symptoms and response to treatment. Tailored medication treatments are decisions that are made between the person and doctor.   

There is some evidence that the longer a person has suffered with a mental illness the longer the person may need to stay on the medications. A person is more likely to need medications for a longer period of time if:  1) you have been suffering with a mental illness continuously for 2 years or longer; 2) you have had repeated relapses of the illness; 3) you need combinations of medications to control your symptoms.       

The good news is some exciting evidence that the sooner a person is treated for a mental illness the better the response will be. Also, the longer the person remains symptom free while taking the medication the better the chances that the doctor may later consider lowering the dose of the medication and possibly stopping the medication. Remember, there are always exceptions to the rule depending on the person and the type of illness. Even in the best-case scenario, a person will need to be re-evaluated on a regular basis for the need for ongoing medications. Please always consult with your doctor if you are thinking of stopping your medication or are concerned about how long to take your medication.

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NAMI Wishes to thank the College of Psychiatric and Neurological Pharmacists for their participation in writing our medication fact sheets and for writing our "Ask the Psychiatric Pharmacist" questions and answers.

Posted on November 10, 2006

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