People who seek professional help for mental health conditions like depression or panic disorder are more likely to accept and follow through when talk therapy is prescribed, rather than medication, according to a new meta-analysis of previous research.
The report, published by the American Psychological Association, found that patients were as much as three times more likely to refuse or not complete their recommended mental health treatment if it took the form of psychotropic medicine, such as antidepressants, instead of psychotherapy.
The effect was most dramatic for people with depression and social anxiety, who were twice as likely to refuse medication, and people with panic disorder, who were almost three times as likely to do so.
The analysis consisted of 186 studies on more than 17,000 patients, 8 percent of whom refused the recommended treatment plan. In addition to treatment refusal, the studies measured whether or not the patients completed their plans.
The study authors say that the analysis did not take into account the reasons why patients refused or dropped out of their treatment plan but they have some theories. Patients may feel that therapy takes a more in-depth approach as a way to tackle the complexities of mental health disorders, according to the researchers.
Some patients may also struggle to understand how medication works or what it does in the brain, causing them to avoid it.
“Psychotropic medications may help a lot of people, and I think some do see them as a relatively easy and potentially quick fix, but I think others view their problems as more complex and worry that medications will only provide a temporary or surface level solution for the difficulties they are facing in their lives,” co-author Roger Greenberg, a professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University, said in a statement.
It’s worth noting the analysis didn’t find a significant difference or rate of dropout for patients who took medication in combination with therapy. Experts say that a combination of therapy and medication is often the most successful way to treat mental health issues. Psychotherapy has been found to help people manage the environmental factors that could exacerbate a condition while medication can help with the physiological, chemical effects in the brain.
Again, the authors didn’t research the motivations of the patients who refused medicine, so it’s difficult to conclude why they made their choice, but there’s no denying the stigma facing those who take mental health medication is prevalent. It’s a stereotype mental health advocates are working to dismantle in the public eye.
In the end, keeping patients involved and engaged in treating their condition is preferable to their abandoning the effort entirely. And ultimately, seeking any treatment is better than not seeking it at all.