Psychoeducational Approaches to Medication Adherence in Patients with Bipolar Disorder
Edwin R. Shirley
There is growing consensus that a major obstacle to good outcomes among individuals with bipolar disorder (BPD) is premature discontinuation of medications. This review summarizes the current literature on prevalence and consequences of non-adherence in BPD populations, measurement of adherence, risk factors for non-adherence, and general and psychoeducational interventions to enhance treatment adherence among bipolar populations, and suggests future directions in psychoeducational approaches with respect to treatment adherence. Risks associated with discontinuation of medication among individuals with BPD are well documented and include manic and depressive relapses, re-hospitalization, and more lengthy hospital stays. A relatively limited but growing literature suggests that it is possible to enhance treatment adherence among patients with BPD. The most positive evidence for the improvement of medication adherence among patients with BPD comes from specific psychosocial interventions used in conjunction with pharmacotherapies. It has been suggested that improved treatment adherence is at least a partial component of the observed positive outcomes of psychoeducational approaches among bipolar populations. Many individuals with BPD remain relatively uninformed regarding their illness, creating potential barriers to optimal treatment adherence, and limiting self-management skills. Psychoeducation is based on the premise that individuals have a fundamental right to have information regarding their illness, and individuals who are informed are more likely to take a more active role in managing their illness, which results in better health outcomes. Psychoeducation strategies for BPD that have contributed to positive outcomes have ranged from simple one-site, education-only interventions that improve lithium adherence and attitudes about medications to a more complex, multi-site, collaborative care system intervention that yielded shorter durations of affective episodes for patients, improved functioning and quality of life, and treatment satisfaction. Although psychological therapies that emphasize psychoeducation generally support benefits in achieving and maintaining remission from bipolar symptoms, the effects of these interventions on treatment adherence are not consistent and the way in which psychoeducation improves outcomes is not entirely clear. There is an urgent need for greater understanding of interventions that can be implemented in real-world settings that address patient, provider/system, and environmental/social factors that are critical to treatment adherence.
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