Pilled Out: Why I Keep Quitting Medication for Bipolar Disorder

When it comes to medication for bipolar disorder, there are many reasons why people quit taking their bipolar medications.

When it comes to medication for bipolar disorder, there are many reasons why people quit taking their bipolar medications.

I got a letter from a drug store which I only used once informing me that I needed to continue my bipolar medication, even if I feel good, and that I had not refilled my prescriptions. Their mask of concern irritated me. I hear the same words from nearly everyone I meet in treatment. Now it's being used as a marketing gimmick.

The fact is that I started getting my meds for bipolar disorder through a different drug program and my doctor had to write new scripts. The ones at the drug store are currently irrelevant.

It reminds me of the words I hear so often when a person who is schizophrenic makes the evening news in some way or another (rarely positive, I might add). Why can't they just take their medicine? "They" includes anyone with a mental illness. Don't forget intake at the hospital. What are you supposed to be taking? Why did you stop? I say I didn't stop and they give me a look that clearly says I don't believe you. At one point my mother asked me nearly every day. Then I pointed out to her that the answer would always be the same. If I quit, I would just lie about it. I always did before.

Why don't they just take their medicine? Maybe it has serious side effects. Maybe it's not effective. Maybe it cost too much. Maybe working with community health centers is a maze of paperwork and procedure. Maybe they just can't remember which to take when, pill bottle after pill bottle, complex schedules. Maybe they're depressed and it just doesn't matter anymore. Why bother?

But nearly every healthcare profession and even that drugstore mail out assume that the reason patients don't comply is because they feel so good they think they don't need it anymore.

I'm sure that happens. I don't dispute it. But it makes me mad when someone stops there, ignoring all of the other factors involved.

Once I asked a doctor to change my medication because it was too expensive and I couldn't afford it. He told me it was my problem. When I told him at my next appointment that I had dropped some, he was furious.

Once I quit taking the only medicine that had really been effective because it wasn't on my insurance company's formulary. Paying out of pocket would have taken half my take-home pay and, since I was insured, I didn't qualify for drug company programs or indigent drug programs. It definitely had a negative effect on my mood.

Once I quit taking one of my meds because it made me feel jerky, like I couldn't sit still. It was either quit the drug or quit the job. Not a difficult choice.

And then I quit taking my meds when I got so depressed it was a struggle to open the pill bottle or even to remember to open the pill bottle.

Compliance is a complex issue. Doctors, counselors, psychiatric nurses and even families should be on alert for these blockades to using medications effectively, especially as medication regimes are becoming more complicated with drugs that are expensive and the practice of polypharmacy.

And yet, not a single doctor has asked me if I could afford a prescription.

My mother started taking a tricyclic for chronic headaches. She was appalled at the side effects and quit promptly. For the same side effects from one drug or another, I have been told not to quit. I don't have the same option.

I gained about sixty pounds in less than seven months. I complained about the rapid weight gain every time I went in for a med check. Nothing was changed until I went to an internist for edema. Based on her opinion the medication was changed.

I found myself all too often settling for effectiveness regardless of side effects, of the effect it had on my life. Once my bipolar meds made me so sleepy I was falling asleep on the job. I was reprimanded for it. The nurse suggested I drink caffeine or go on disability. I refused to give up a job I enjoyed. One morning I drove through one of the busiest intersections in the city asleep. I woke up on the other side. Luckily, I had caught a green light. I continued to take my meds as prescribed, continued to work. Call that compliance. I call it stupidity.

There's another reason why people stop taking their bipolar medications, it called complacency.

About the author: Melissa has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and shared her experiences for the benefit of others. Please remember, do NOT take any action based on what you have read here. Please discuss any questions or concerns with your healthcare professional.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2021, December 28). Pilled Out: Why I Keep Quitting Medication for Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Last Updated: January 7, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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