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August 25, 2005

Depression Survey: People Often Don't Adhere to Treatment

Findings Highlight Importance of Physician/Patient Communication in depression (and similar issues are common with bipolar disorder)

Results of a new national survey reveal a disparity between what people with depression say they know about their illness and how they manage it. Although 91 percent of those surveyed say it is very important to take their antidepressant medication exactly as prescribed, at some point approximately 40 percent stopped taking their medication without the advice of their health care professional because they personally believed they were no longer experiencing symptoms of depression. These insights come from an online survey of 1,086 people with depression sponsored by NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) and funded by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

"These findings are of great concern because people who prematurely discontinue antidepressant therapy are much more likely to experience another episode," said Ken Duckworth, M.D., Medical Director of NAMI, the nation's voice on mental illness. "If patients are unsatisfied with their treatment or believe they no longer need medication because their symptoms are improving, they may stop treatment too early and slip back into the cycle of depression. If this cycle continues, people with depression may eventually give up all hope of ever getting better. What this means to physicians is that we must select appropriate therapies and provide the education and support necessary to help patients understand their illness and achieve success."

People with depression who are well informed about the illness stand a much better chance of achieving the treatment goals of having little or no symptoms. Yet the results of this survey suggest that there are gaps in awareness among people with depression about their illness and treatment goals. In fact, only 53 percent of respondents in this survey feel well informed about their illness, and only 22 percent have ever been told that it is possible to achieve a state of having little or no symptoms of depression. In addition, less than 25 percent are aware of the difference between a partial and full response to medication. And while the majority of respondents report they have experienced six or more episodes of depression in their lifetime, only 34 percent of people with depression have ever discussed their risk of relapse with their physician.

These findings are important because clinical research shows that the longer people with depression experience symptoms, the less likely they are to achieve their treatment goals. In fact, those who experience one episode of depression have a 50 percent chance of relapse, while those who continue to experience subsequent episodes have up to a 90 percent chance of relapse.

"As a physician, I know that lack of awareness of treatment goals and low expectations can undermine treatment, resulting in people with depression continuing to experience symptoms or relapse," says Dr. Duckworth. "The majority of people with depression can achieve success with medication, talk therapy or a combination of both. What this survey helps to illustrate is the important role physicians must play in helping people with depression understand what they should expect from treatment and providing monitoring to help them stick with it."

Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions in the United States, affecting nearly 19 million American adults each year. People with depression can learn more about their illness and how to manage symptoms through organizations such as NAMI, which advocates for expanded access to information, services and treatment.

About the Survey

Harris Interactive, an independent survey research provider, administered an online survey between April 8 and April 22, 2005 to 1,086 people with depression who are taking antidepressants. Respondents answered questions about their treatment regimen, depression-related perceptions or misperceptions, quality of life, as well as symptomology and treatment efficacy.

Respondents were screened to ensure they were at least 25 years of age, had been diagnosed with depression, were currently taking a prescription antidepressant, and had not taken a depression-related survey in the past six months. Figures for age, sex, race, region, education and income were weighted where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. The survey was sponsored by NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) and funded by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

Source: National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

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