Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of patients' awareness of their illness on the clinical presentation, management, and course of nonadherence to antipsychotic medications among patients with schizophrenia.
Methods: A national survey was conducted of psychiatrists who were treating patients with schizophrenia. The survey was sent to 771 psychiatrists, of whom 534 responded, for a response rate of 69 percent. The psychiatrists were asked to report on presentation, management, and course for one adult patient with schizophrenia who had been under their care for at least one year and who had been nonadherent to oral antipsychotics at some point in the past year. Patients who were aware that they had a mental illness were compared with those who were not aware.
Results: Of the 534 respondent psychiatrists, 310 reported on an eligible patient, and 300 of these patients were classified by illness awareness. Ninety-seven patients, or 32 percent, were not aware that they had a mental illness. These patients who lacked awareness had significantly longer episodes of antipsychotic nonadherence, were more likely to completely cease taking the antipsychotic medication, were more likely to have severe positive symptoms, and were more likely to be psychiatrically hospitalized after nonadherence than those who were aware of their illness. Psychological interventions and several types of family interventions were significantly less effective among patients who lacked awareness.
Conclusions: A lack of awareness of mental illness is common among patients with schizophrenia who are nonadherent to antipsychotics. Such nonadherence tends to be especially disruptive and unresponsive to simple commonly used psychological interventions.