4 Reasons People With Schizophrenia Resist Treatment


Garippo, Gina

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If your loved one has schizophrenia, you probably know there are treatments that can reduce symptoms and help him or her live a more productive life. But it can be frustrating if your loved one doesn’t participate in these therapies. Maybe he refuses to take his medication. Or perhaps she skips her counseling sessions. Understanding some of the reasons your loved one may be resisting treatment can help you know what to do about it.

1. Lack of Insight

Many people with schizophrenia suffer from what is called “anosognosia,” a lack of insight into their illness. This means they don’t understand that they are sick. Anosognosia stems from processing problems in the brain. It doesn’t mean your loved one is in denial or is being stubborn. As a result of this problem, he or she may not understand the need for medication or therapy sessions.

If you try to convince your loved one that he or she is sick, your loved one may get frustrated and angry. Instead, approach the topic in a supportive way. Try linking the acceptance of professional help to the goals that your loved one wants to achieve. Ask for help from a mental health professional who has experience working with people who have lack of insight.  

2. Unpleasant Side Effects

Antipsychotic medication, which is typically prescribed for schizophrenia, can greatly reduce certain symptoms of the illness, such as hallucinations and delusions. But it can also cause side effects. These range from major weight gain, stiffness and restlessness to reduced sexual drive, menstrual problems, and muscle spasms. If your loved one is bothered by these side effects, he or she may be more apt to stop taking medication.

Help your loved one work with his or her doctor to find the right treatment plan. The doctor may be able to change the type of medication or dosage to help minimize bothersome medication effects.

3. A Successful Treatment Plan

If your loved one has been following a medication plan for schizophrenia, it can greatly improve his or her symptoms. However, getting better may actually cause your loved one to stop taking the drugs. That’s because when your loved one begins to feel better, he or she may believe the medicine is no longer necessary.  

To help your loved one understand the ongoing need for medication, encourage him or her to attend disease education sessions and/or cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy can give people greater insight into their disease and help them stay on their medication.  

4. Fear of Stigma


4 Tips for Preventing a Schizophrenia Relapse

If your doctor has prescribed psychosocial therapy, make sure you participate.

It’s estimated that half of all people in the United States with mental illness don’t receive treatment. Part of the reason is that mental illness carries a stigma—and schizophrenia is no exception. Many people don’t truly understand the illness, and they may react with fear or discrimination. But it’s important to not let the fear of stigma prevent your loved one from seeking diagnosis and treatment.

To help your loved one feel less isolated, seek out area support groups. These groups can help create a sense of community and encourage your loved one to continue treatment.  

Whatever the reason your loved one is resisting treatment, talk with his or her doctor. Together you can help address any obstacles and get your loved one back on track.

Key Takeaways

  • Many people with schizophrenia suffer from anosognosia, which means they don’t understand that they’re sick—and, therefore, may not understand the need for treatment.

  • Antipsychotic medication can cause side effects such as major weight gain, muscle spasms, and reduced sexual drive. This may lead some people to stop taking medication.

  • A successful treatment plan may actually cause some people to stop taking medication, since they feel better and believe that treatment is no longer needed.

  • A fear of stigma may prevent some people from seeking diagnosis and treatment.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 19, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Treatment, Services and Support, National Alliance on Mental Health, Accessed February 5, 2014.  http://nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Schizophrenia9&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&C...
  2. Anosognosia (Lack of Insight) Fact Sheet, National Alliance on Mental Health, Accessed February 5, 2014.  http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Mental_Illnesses/Schizophrenia9/Anosognosia_Fact_Sheet.ht...
  3. Measuring the Impact of Programs that Challenge the Public Stigma of Mental Illness. P Corrigan and J. Shapiro. Clinical Psychology Review. December 2010, vol. 30, no. 8, pp. 907–922.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2952670/
  4. Frequently Asked Questions, Schizophrenia Society of Canada, Accessed February 5, 2014.  http://www.schizophrenia.ca/faq.php#10

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